No Sequestration in Aurora Theater Shooting Jury Trial

James Holmes, the defendant in the Aurora theater shooting, is currently scheduled to begin his jury trial early next year. The attorneys are already litigating issues involving what is anticipated to be a lengthy jury trial, possibly four or more months in duration.

In Colorado, Holmes will be entitled to a  twelve person jury. Those twelve jurors will be required to unanimously agree that Holmes is guilty of the crimes charged before he can be convicted. Due to the length of the trial, it is very likely that the judge will also allow for alternate jurors. Alternate jurors are extra jurors who hear all of the evidence, but do not participate in reaching a verdict unless one of the regular jurors is unable to complete his or her jury service. The court and the attorneys know which jurors are the alternates, but the jurors do not know who is an alternate until the conclusion of the evidence.

The judge in Holmes’ case denied the defense’s request for full jury sequestration during the trial. The defense requested that the jurors, which would include any alternates, be sequestered, in other words, required to live in a hotel, during the trial. The defense made this request to ensure that the jurors are not discussing the case or being exposed to media coverage of the case. The judge denied the request citing the cost and general burden of having jurors sequestered, especially for four months or more. It is general practice in any trial for the judge to instruct the jurors that they are not to discuss the case with anyone, including fellow jurors, until deliberations begin at the conclusion of all the evidence. It is also general practice for the judge to instruct the jurors not to read, watch or listen to any media coverage or do any independent research. If it is discovered that a juror disobeys any of these instructions, then that juror can be dismissed from the jury. In that event, an alternate juror would take his or her place. If there was no alternate, dismissing a juror could result in a mistrial, meaning the case would have to tried all over again.

The judge also made several rulings likely aimed towards reducing any negative attention to Holmes. The judge ruled that Holmes would be restrained in the courtroom during the trial, but the restraint would be disguised as a computer cord. The judge also ruled that Holmes would be allowed to wear street clothes rather than an inmate jumpsuit during trial. Finally, the judge noted that, while there would be sheriff’s deputies in the courtroom, the deputies would wear plain clothes rather than the normal uniforms.