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Lifeline for Buju

Juror's breach of federal regulations opens door for mistrial, says lawyer

BY KARYL WALKER Online news editor walkerk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, October 17, 2012    

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THE newly appointed attorney for incarcerated reggae artiste Buju Banton says news that a female juror breached federal regulations will provide a loophole for the artiste to request a mistrial.

Banton was sentenced to 10 years in a Tampa, Florida court after being found guilty of drug-related charges in February last year.

But 20 months after he began serving his sentence, a female juror, Terri Wright, has reportedly admitted to a Florida-based media house that she violated federal regulations and researched certain aspects of the case online during the trial to have a better grasp of the issues when deliberation started.

Wright admitted to researching the Pinkerton rule — which makes a conspirator criminally liable for offences committed by a co-conspirator — and which the feds used to slap Buju with a gun charge, despite the fact that he had no connection to the gun.

Standard instructions for federal trials tell jurors not to attempt to research any fact, issue, or law related to a case, whether by discussion with others, by library or Internet research, or by any other means or source.

According to Buju's attorney, Chukwe Lumumba, this breach has opened the door for his client to seek a mistrial.

"We are hopeful that this will help his case. We have every reason to believe that we have good support to argue for something to help Buju Banton," Lumumba told the Jamaica Observer.

Banton, whose real name is Mark Myrie, will be heading back to the Tampa court for re-sentencing after an Appeals Court in Georgia rejected his motion for an appeal against his sentence on the basis that he was entrapped and that he was jailed for a long time before his case came to trial.

In fact, the court ruled that he should be sentenced to five more years as he was guilty of the initially dismissed gun charge.

But even though Banton faces an uphill struggle for his freedom, Lumumba said he will be seeking a retrial for his client on the basis of juror misconduct, but admitted that the process may take some time.

"We will be asking the court to set aside the verdict, and if the court does that, then the US attorney might appeal that decision and we will end up in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal. If that happens, we will ask the court to release him on bond until the appeal process is complete," Lumumba said.

Although the possibility exists that the court could make a ruling that the current sentence should stand, the attorney said based on the evidence so far, that scenario would be highly unlikely, and in the interest of justice, Banton may be given another day in court.

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