Legal Experts Discuss Jury Allegations of Spy in 214th District

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According to First Assistant to District Attorney Angelica Hernandez, the judge and his staff watched jurors deliberate live on camera without sound.

NUECES COUNTY, Texas – The Nueces County District Attorney’s Office is still waiting for a new judge to be appointed for the punishment phase in Derek Parra’s trial.

214th District Court Judge Inna Klein withdrew from the case on Monday after allegations were made that she and her staff, as well as prosecutors and defense attorneys, watched the secret deliberations of the jury through a camera in the judge’s courtroom.

According to First Assistant to District Attorney Angelica Hernandez, the judge and his staff watched jurors deliberate live on camera without sound.

“The judge, the court director, the court staff, the district attorneys, the defense attorneys, they got to observe the jury’s deliberations as they unfolded. Watch the vote,” he said. Hernandez said. “Look at the activities of the jury.”

Parra was ultimately found not guilty, but he pleaded guilty to felony possession of a firearm.

Klein was supposed to preside over her punishment phase, but after the allegations came to light, the DA’s office demanded that she recuse herself from the case.

“The visual broadcast of the jury’s deliberations is only a violation of the most fundamental aspect of our criminal justice system, which demands secrecy,” Hernandez said. “The jury is supposed to be protected.”

As the court system settles what happened or did not happen about the jury’s claim being spied on by the 214th District Court, legal experts spoke to 3News and provided insight of what the law says on matters relating to this situation.

Wright C. Morrow law professor Jennifer Laurin of the University of Texas Law School said the incident raises concerns about a breach of the law.

“It definitely goes against training,” Laurin said. “It certainly goes against tradition. I think it raises significant concerns about the degradation of the nature of the jury, doesn’t it.”

Laurin further explained that the US Constitution does not require the confidentiality of jurors.

“The Constitution does not guarantee them a jury that deliberates in private,” Laurin said. “However, it has long been understood and consistently followed in terms of the tradition that private deliberation and jury confidentiality are in some way essential to realizing what the right to a jury means.”

Local attorney Matt Manning said the Code of Criminal Procedure gives specific rules regarding jury deliberations.

“Section 36.22 says that no one can be present with the jury while it is deliberating,” Manning said.

Additionally, Manning said that while the law does not expressly prohibit the use of cameras to watch jury proceedings, he said the camera equates to a person in the room with the jury.

“The idea is that it’s basically a way for a person to be present with the jury if there’s a videotape in the jury room while they’re deliberating,” Manning said.

Manning refers to a 2003 case in Harris County where there was an agreement to record jury proceedings for educational purposes, but the district attorney objected. The court agreed that these jury deliberations should be kept secret.

Manning thinks there might be some benefit to showing the actual jury deliberations, but the overriding concern is making sure the juries aren’t unduly influenced by a camera, and that’s why they weren’t. used so far apparently.

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