Dickson: Sequestering the jury in the age of iPhones and the Vallow Daybell trial

Apr 5, 2023, 5:00 PM | Updated: Jan 5, 2024, 3:09 pm

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This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom.

ADA COUNTY, Idaho — The judge in the Lori Vallow Daybell murder trial, Judge Steven Boyce, hinted in court this week that he is considering sequestering the jury.

He even asked potential jurors if they could be sequestered.

When a judge sequesters a jury, he isolates them from the public and media. This usually involves putting them in a hotel. The purpose of sequestration is to make sure that the jurors base their decision entirely and only on the evidence they receive in court — and not on any outside information.

KSL Legal Analyst Greg Skordas does not think Judge Boyce will actually sequester the jury.

The notion of sequestering the jury — I won’t call it a threat — but more of a pronouncement by the judge that he’s taking this very seriously,” said Skordas to co-host Tim Hughes and me on Utah’s Morning News. “He expects the jury to not go out and look at things on the internet.”

Sequestering the jury in recent history

As a practical matter, it’s hard to keep jurors away from their families and lives for a trial like Vallow Daybell’s, which is expected to last four to six weeks.

Hard — but not impossible.

The O.J. Simpson jury was sequestered for months. The jury in Bill Cosby’s trial in 2017 was sequestered.

In the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin for murdering George Floyd, it was a hybrid situation. The judge partially sequestered the jury during the trial. He kept them supervised in the courtroom but let them go home at night. When deliberations began, the judge put the jury into full sequestration in a hotel.

Back in the day of the O.J. Simpson trial, sequestering a jury meant putting them in a hotel and getting rid of the TVs and newspapers. With smartphones and other digital devices, taking out the TV just wouldn’t do it.

Can a judge take away the jury’s cell phones?

“Yes,” Skordas said. “A judge can say, ‘If you’re going to serve on this jury, you’re not going to have any access to the internet or social media.’ That could include a smartphone, tablet, that sort of thing.”

Skordas calls taking away phones “an extreme measure”, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility of what the judge could do.

Amanda Dickson is the co-host of Utah’s Morning News and A Woman’s View.

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Dickson: Sequestering the jury in the age of iPhones and the Vallow Daybell trial