Judging Spooky Ghosts

Judges have referenced Star Trek, Star Wars and classic science fiction in court opinions for years. However, Judges are not limited to being science fiction fans. Here are several opinions where Judges looked to the spirit world for spectral jurisprudence.

I just pray none are Team Edward or Team Jacob.

Halloween Ghost

Judging Intertextuality

Some Judges hauntingly command the English language:

Although a residential subdivision proposed for construction in a bucolic Rhode Island town never saw the light of day, its ghost continues to haunt the parties. But apparitions rarely have substance, and this one is no exception. After careful consideration of the plaintiff’s complaint and the district court’s order of dismissal, we lay the ghost to rest.

Marek v. State, 702 F.3d 650, 651 (1st Cir. R.I. 2012).

Discrediting a Witness

One spirit made a courtroom appearance as a admission why a witness opened a door….

Finally, in a move intended to cast doubt on Tackett’s credibility generally, the defense elicited an admission about Tackett’s initial reaction to the knock on her door at 3 a.m. Tackett confirmed a prior statement to police in which she reported that she first thought the ghost of a former occupant had made the knocking sound.

Browning v. Trammell, 717 F.3d 1092, 1098 (10th Cir. Okla. 2013).

SpookyHauntedHouseThe Ghost in the Case

Some judges really know how to make a point.

Haunted houses may be full of ghosts, goblins, and guillotines, but it’s their more prosaic features that pose the real danger. Tyler Hodges found that out when an evening shift working the ticket booth ended with him plummeting down an elevator shaft. But as these things go, this case no longer involves Mr. Hodges. Years ago he recovered from his injuries, received a settlement, and moved on. This lingering specter of a lawsuit concerns only two insurance companies and who must foot the bill. And at the end of it all, we find, there is no escape for either of them.

Western World Ins. Co. v. Markel Am. Ins. Co., 677 F.3d 1266, 1267 (10th Cir. Okla. 2012).

Ghosts of the Confederacy

Another reason why people fear jury duty: Is it wrong to tell a jury that there is the ghost of a Confederate soldier in the courthouse?

Next, Shuff argues that the district court erred in informing the jury pool during the voir dire proceeding about a legend that the ghost of a Confederate soldier haunted the courthouse. Although we ordinarily would review for abuse of discretion the manner in which the district court conducted the jury voir dire, United States v. Hsu, 364 F.3d 192, 203 (4th Cir. 2004), because Shuff did not object to the court’s telling of the legend, we review this claim for plain error only. Robinson, 627 F.3d at 953-54.

After review of the record, we conclude that Shuff fails to establish any plain error that affected his substantial rights. During the voir dire proceeding, when counsel for Shuff and the Government were deciding whether to exercise any strikes against potential jurors, the district court gave a lengthy discourse in which it described the history of the courthouse and the land on which it was situated. As part of the narrative, the court mentioned that a building on the land had been seized by the Confederacy in 1861 and that there existed a legend that a “Confederate ghost” roamed the courthouse hallways. In Shuff’s view, it was error for the court to mention the legend because, in so doing, the court necessarily conveyed to the jury pool that “someone or something [was] watching and interested in the outcome” of the trial and that the “desired outcome [of the trial was] not the freedom of a black man.” Shuff, however, fails to point to anything in the record that would support these imaginative assertions. Further, after a review of the transcript of the jury voir dire, we are satisfied that no reasonable observer would conclude that there was even the appearance that Shuff’s race played a role in the proceeding. See United States v. Kaba, 480 F.3d 152, 156-57 (2nd Cir. 2007). This claim is therefore without merit.

United States v. Shuff, 470 Fed. Appx. 158 (4th Cir. N.C. 2012).

 

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Josh Gilliland
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg for 2013 to 2016, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.