7th Circuit reverses judgment against postal worker over juror coercion concerns

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed guilty verdicts against a former Merrillville postal worker convicted in a robbery scheme, finding that a holdout juror at the woman’s trial was subjected to “impermissible coercion.”

Tanisha Banks, a former U.S. Postal Service employee from Merrillville, was convicted of plotting a 2017 armed robbery at a Gary post office and sentenced to more than seven years in prison. She was found guilty by a jury of conspiracy and aiding and abetting a robbery following a five-day trial and four hours of deliberation that stretched to about 8:45 p.m.

When the judge polled the jurors at Banks’ request, the fifth juror did not affirm the verdict. When asked whether the guilty verdict was in fact his verdict, Juror 32 responded, “Forced into.” The judge repeated the question, and Juror 32 responded that he needed more time.

The judge continued the poll, and the remaining jurors affirmed the verdict while Juror 32 remained the lone dissenter. After being instructed to continue deliberating, the jurors were sent them back to the jury room at 9:06 p.m. Almost 30 minutes later, the jury again returned a guilty verdict with a unanimous decision.

On appeal, Banks’ argument focused on concerns about the circumstances surrounding the jury poll, which she contended exerted impermissible pressure on the wavering juror. Agreeing with Banks’ concerns, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the totality of the circumstances were “unacceptably coercive” and vacated the judgment, remanding for a new trial.

Specifically, the 7th Circuit expressed concern with the dissenting juror’s “troubling responses to the poll questions, the judge’s decision to complete the poll notwithstanding the juror’s dissent, the lateness of the hour, and the extreme brevity of the jury’s renewed deliberations … .”

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