Having a good bailiff can really help the efficiency of a courtroom. Whenever I go to a foreign courtroom outside my Orange/Seminole/Osceola territory–I always ask the bailiff to give me a heads up on the judge’s quirks. Thankfully, we here in central Florida have excellent bailiffs, but that cannot be said of many other jurisdictions. This next real life example will give you an idea of how strict the courts can be with bailiff-jury interactions.
In Natan v. State, 58 So. 3d 948 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2011), Natan was convicted of aggravated stalking and arson. He appealed his convictions, and all of his concerns were rejected by the court but one–Natan called into question the bailiff’s handling of a piece of evidence. You see, as the verdict was being returned, the bailiff was informed by the jury that a piece of evidence had an extra tag on it. As it turns out, the evidence was improperly tagged to someone else’s case (in addition to Natan’s case). The bailiff informed the prosecutor that he “had taken care of the situation”.
Natan’s convictions were reversed. The Florida Supreme Court has held that it is “per se reversible error rule when a bailiff has unsupervised communications with a jury”. Id. No one would have ever known about this incident, but for the prosecutor bringing it up to the court later. The appeals court noted that “we commend the ASA for his disclosure.”
I agree. I commend this prosecutor as well. Remember, this ASA was trying to convict Natan, but turned around and disclosed something that would reverse the whole thing. Great prosecutors are more common than we defense attorneys give them credit for. You see, I really can say something nice about prosecutors. Mark your calendars.