No Error in Judge's Comments about 9/11
March 20, 2019
In a decision issued today, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rejected a challenge to a criminal conviction based in part on a trial judge’s reflections about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Trial in the case commenced on September 11, 2013, with the judge’s recollection of her day on September 11, 2001. After evacuating the courthouse on that day when news of the attacks spread, she said, the jurors unanimously decided to return the next day. The judge went on to express confidence that the jurors will “appreciate [their] part of the government here… and [the jurors] are the government here.” The SJC held that the judge’s statement “did not prejudice the defendant” and was intended “to emphasize the importance of jury duty.” The court further stated that no error occurs where “the judge’s remarks were neither intemperate nor critical of the attorneys, there was no danger that the judge exhibited to the jury a bias against the defendant.”
So judges in Massachusetts state courts are permitted to instill a sense of patriotism in a jury by using a seriously emotional and traumatic event, such as 9/11, so long as they exhibit self-control and do not criticize the attorneys or exhibit bias.