U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue says this is a victory for the American and Mexican people along with anyone who has lost a loved one to the “black hole of addiction.”
NEW YORK — Lawyers for Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán are seeking a retrial of the convicted Mexican drug lord, arguing that potential jury violations and prejudice prevented the Sinaloa drug cartel leader from receiving a fair trial.
In a legal brief filed Tuesday, defense attorneys cited a Vice News report just after Guzmán’s conviction that said at least six jurors from the anonymous panel violated the court’s instructions by actively following media coverage of the internationally-watched case.
The violations enabled jurors to get details about prejudicial material that was not submitted in evidence — including a former henchman’s claim that Guzmán drugged and raped young girls, plus news reports that one of the defense lawyers allegedly had an adulterous affair with a former client, the attorneys argued.
Jurors who convicted Guzmán on all counts last month should be questioned about the reported violations during an evidentiary hearing that would include written or oral questions from the defense team, attorneys March Fernich and Jeffrey Lichtman argued.
“If a justice system’s measure is how it treats the most reviled and unpopular, when ours may have failed Joaquín Guzmán by denying him the fair trial before an untainted jury to which he’s constitutionally entitled,” the lawyer’s 24-page motion said. “Because sunlight is the best disinfectant, that prospect merits serious consideration, close investigation, and a new trial, as appropriate.”
The motion represents a legal bid for a retrial of a case that featured dozens of prosecution witnesses and cost millions of dollars in legal and security expenses. Prosecution evidence depicted Guzmán as a violent Sinaloa cartel leader as the Mexican organization for decades smuggled tons of cocaine and other drugs into the United States.
Legal precedents in previous federal court cases that allegedly featured jury misconduct required defense lawyers to show not only that jurors violated instructions but also that their verdict was based at least in part by material not introduced in evidence.
U.S. District Court Judge Brian Cogan has not disclosed any timetable for issuing a decision on the defense motion.
Defense lawyers in federal criminal cases generally must file motions for new trials within two weeks of a conviction.
However, Cogan, who regularly warned jurors to avoid news about the case, gave the defense team an extended, one-month deadline to marshal legal arguments in light of the potential jury violations.
The report appeared to undercut the judge’s comments during the trial that he had established a rapport with jurors and did not see any evidence of an effort to deceive him.
Prosecutors have started presenting evidence to jurors in the trial of the notorious drug smuggler known as El Chapo by giving them a video tour of a tunnel between Mexico and an Arizona warehouse. (Nov. 14)
For instance, the Vice report, based on a single member of the jury who contacted Vice’s trial reporter after the conviction, said several panel members read news accounts about Guzmán’s alleged sexual attacks on girls as young as 13, including the claim that he referred to the underage victims as his “vitamins.”
Jurors learned from social media reports that Cogan planned to ask them whether they had read or heard anything about the alleged rapes, and then falsely reassured the judge that they had not, Vice reported.
Guzmán lawyers separately noted that the tipster juror acknowledged wanting to be selected for a “case of the century.” Post-trial evidence of jurors who failed to give honest answers about personal motivations and biases during pre-trial questioning could set the stage for a mandatory retrial, the lawyers argued.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Kevin McCoy on Twitter: @kmccoynyc
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