Jurors in the trial of drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman have been accused of “massive misconduct” by the convict’s lawyer.
Jeffrey Lichtman says there are serious questions surrounding Guzman’s conviction on drug smuggling and conspiracy charges, amid claims some jurors flouted strict rules imposed on them by a judge.
One juror anonymously told Vice News that at least five members of the panel had followed news reports and Twitter feeds about the case during the three-month trial.
This meant they were aware of explosive and potentially prejudicial material that had been excluded from the proceedings.
Mr Lichtman now wants US district judge Brian Cogan to bring in all 12 jurors, as well as their six alternates, to face questions about whether they disobeyed the judge’s orders.
He told the Associated Press: “Everyone has the world at their fingertips. Twenty years ago, you didn’t have to worry about that.
“It’s clear we have to get them back into court and get some answers about some massive misconduct.
“I repeatedly asked the jury to just give him a fair trial. It turns out that was too much to ask.”
In the past, similar incidents of misconduct by juries have been deemed prejudicial enough to warrant a new trial – and experts say this cannot be ruled out in Guzman’s case.
Duncan Levin, a former federal prosecutor, said: “This is a question about fundamental fairness.
“It’s presumptively prejudicial for a juror to have this information, and it’s a step more outrageous for them to have accessed it when the judge specifically told them not to.”
Guzman was found guilty of running a continuing criminal enterprise, drug trafficking, conspiracy and using firearms as leader of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel.
During the 1990s and 2000s, the cartel became one of the world’s most powerful drug trafficking organisations.
The 61-year-old is now facing a mandatory life sentence – and his lawyer has said he “is going to die in jail”.
Extraordinary measures were put in place during the trial which saw jurors escorted to court each day by armed US marshals.
Their names have never been made public because Guzman has a history of intimidating witnesses.
Jurors were required to give up their phones while they were in court but were allowed access to their devices at other times.
The juror who spoke to Vice News also claimed that another member of the panel had looked up a story about the case on their smartwatch – moments after the judge had asked them whether they had been exposed to any recent media coverage about the trial.
Guzman escaped from prison twice before he was finally captured in January 2016, and the convict was extradited to the US a year later.
Disregarding a judge’s instructions in this way can have repercussions, and the jurors involved could find themselves held in contempt of court.
Michael J Stern, also a federal prosecutor, said convincing the judge the misconduct is enough to order a new trial would be a long shot for Guzman’s defence.
“The judge will have to decide whether there was a reasonable possibility that the information could have affected the jury’s verdict,” he explained.
Law professor Thaddeus Hoffmeister added: “This is a growing phenomenon, and courts are struggling with how to address it.
“You’re dealing with people today who have more faith in Google than the witnesses being called to testify.”
In other new developments on Thursday, two of Guzman’s sons were indicted on drug conspiracy charges.
(c) Sky News 2019: El Chapo trial: Jurors accused of ‘massive misconduct’