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Jury was not pressured, court rules

A Yukoner who claimed his Carmacks jury was pressured to reach a verdict because they didn't want to travel to Whitehorse has lost his appeal.

A Yukoner who claimed his Carmacks jury was pressured to reach a verdict because they didn’t want to travel to Whitehorse has lost his appeal.

Joseph Townsend, also known as Joseph Desjarlais, was convicted of sexual assault after a three-day trial in November 2011.

He would later be sentenced to eight and a half years in prison.

The assault took place in Pelly Crossing but the trial happened in Carmacks.

The jury was made up of members from both communities.

After hearing testimony, the jury began its deliberations just after noon on Nov. 23.

About four hours later they returned to the courtroom and gave Yukon Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale a piece of paper that said “undecided.”

In his response, the judge told the jury that the “normal process is to keep going.” If their deliberations continued overnight, the judge said, they would be taken to Whitehorse, where there were accommodations, the decision says.

According to the Yukon Court of Appeal decision released this week, the jury also asked for more instructions about some of the legal issues in the case.

After hearing those instructions, they continued to deliberate. They returned with a guilty verdict after about half an hour.

“The appellant maintains the trial judge introduced extraneous considerations into the jury’s deliberations when he informed the jurors that they would be sequestered overnight in Whitehorse, approximately two hours driving time away from Carmacks,” Yukon Court of Appeal Justice Risa Levine wrote in her ruling.

“This information came at a time when the jury had indicated to the trial judge that they were undecided and required clarification of a number of substantive issues. The appellant says the jurors were made aware that they faced significant inconvenience if they failed to reach a verdict that day.”

Townsend pointed to the half hour between the instructions and the guilty verdict as a sign that there was pressure during the deliberations.

But the Court of Appeal disagreed.

If the jurors had been told earlier in the trial about the plans for being sequestered, they would have been similarly inconvenienced, Justice Levine wrote.

“Second, in my opinion it amounts to speculation that a juror would allow a concern about his or her personal inconvenience to, in effect, violate the juror’s oath to decide the case based on the evidence.

“Jurors take their role seriously, and it would be contrary to our expectations of the jury system to conclude that it is ‘reasonably possible’ that a juror would allow his or her personal inconvenience to eclipse the importance of the juror’s responsibility.”

Justice Levine went on to point out that the last thing the jurors heard from the trial judge was the further instructions in response to their questions, not the information about going to Whitehorse.

It is more likely that those instructions caused them to reach agreement than the information about travelling to Whitehorse, she said.

Contact Ashley Joannou at