Harrell v State

Annotate this Case

Harrell v State
1947 OK CR 144
187 P.2d 676
85 Okl.Cr. 293
Decided: 12/10/1947
Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals

(Syllabus.)

1. Trial-Trial Judge Should not Indicate to Jury His Opinion as to Merits of Case. Jurors are easily influenced by the remarks of a trial judge, and the greatest care should be observed that nothing is said that can by any possibility be construed as an expression of the court's views respecting the merits of a criminal case. Courts cannot be too circumspect in their efforts to avoid allowing jurors to discover the opinion of the judge as to the weight of the evidence, or the guilt or innocence of a defendant.

2. Same Statement by Court "I Do not Want Any Seven-Minute Verdict in This Case," Prejudicial Error Causing Reversal. From an examination of the record it is found that the statement of the court to the jury: "I do not want any seven-minute verdict in this case," in view of the fact that a jury had just previously acquitted another defendant in seven minutes on a similar charge, and three of the jurors who were on that panel were jurors in the instant case, was prejudicial to the defendant, and would cause a reversal of this case.

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Appeal from County Court, Major County; Harry Randall, Judge.

Roy Harrell was convicted of unlawful possession of intoxicating liquor, and he appeals. Reversed.

C. B. Wood and A. O. Manning, both of Fairview, for plaintiff in error.

Mac Q. Williamson, Atty. Gen., Lewis A. Wallace, Asst. Atty. Gen., and Ollie G. Gleason, County Atty., Major County, of Fairview, for defendant in error.

BAREFOOT, P. J. Roy Harrell was charged in the county court of Major county with the offense of unlawful possession of intoxicating liquor for the purpose of sale; was tried, convicted, and his punishment fixed at 30 days in the county jail, and a fine of $50. From this judgment and sentence he has appealed.

The defendant sets out three specifications of error, and then states that the assignments can be grouped and presented under one specification-that to present them separately would only result in repetition.

The assignment of error complained of is:

"That the court erred in making prejudicial statements to the jury after the cause had been closed and fully argued by both sides, by orally instructing the jury that the court did not want a seven-minute verdict in this case."

The record discloses that after the case had been concluded, the jury instructed and the case finally closed, the court admonished the jury, as they were being placed in the custody of the bailiff : "I do not want any seven-minute verdict in this case."

The defendant filed a motion for new trial, in which he set out as error the remarks of the court that he "did

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not want any seven-minute verdict in this case"; and evidence was presented in support of the motion.

The record also shows that on the previous day, in a case involving the same offense, and on which three of the jurors in this case sat, the jury had returned a verdict of "not guilty" after being out only six minutes.

Attached to the motion for new trial was an affidavit by one of the jurors who had been a member of the previous jury, and in this affidavit it was stated:

"From the statement of the court, it was understood that the court was dissatisfied with the verdict of not guilty in the case of Oklahoma v. Raymond Unwin, and that he wanted a verdict of guilty in the case on trial."

The trial court made a statement, attempting to explain his remark, and the reason therefor, stating that he only intended to inform the jury that his instructions were not in the order they should be, and that it would, therefore, take a longer time to consider them. But no such explanation was given the jury, and we are of the opinion that the statement was such that it could have, and probably did, convey to the jury the thought as expressed in the affidavit of the juror.

Jurors are easily influenced by the remarks of a trial judge, and the greatest care should be observed that nothing is said that can by any possibility be construed as an expression of the court's views respecting the merits of a criminal case. Courts cannot be too circumspect in their efforts to avoid allowing jurors to discover the opinion of the judge as to the weight of the evidence, or the guilt or innocence of a defendant. Garrett v. State, 74 Okla. Cr. 78, 123 P.2d 283; Yeargain v. State, 76 Okla. Cr. 356, 136 P.2d 696; Hill v. State, 76 Okla. Cr. 371, 137 P.2d 261.