A man who described himself as a racist and threatened to create a hung jury in order to avoid jury duty last year didn’t obstruct justice, the Ontario Court of Justice has ruled.
“Mr. Triffon is charged with attempting to obstruct justice, not with actually obstructing it,” wrote Justice Joseph Bovard in a July 5 ruling.
“In any case, I am not persuaded that in announcing that he would be an unfit juror prior to coming before a judge for the actual selection of a jury, he obstructed the jury selection process.
There is no evidence that the selection of any jury was impeded by what he said and did.”
Triffon was called for jury duty in March 2011 at the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto.
In April 2011, a month before his scheduled appearance in court for jury duty, he sent a circular to the Toronto Sun describing how to get even with the Ontario government and its courts.
In the circular, Triffon said he intended to create a hung jury and would counsel other jury members to do so to “get even” with the provincial government, Bovard’s decision noted. Triffon also said he’d hand out the circular in court when he appeared for jury duty.
“The courts? The police? Elected officials? Bureaucrats? Did they ever make you so mad you wanted to get even? This is your chance, and you’ll never have another chance like this as long as you live,” the circular read.
Triffon ultimately changed his mind and didn’t circulate it in court. The Sun didn’t publish the circular.
Several days after sending the circular to the Sun, Triffon also wrote an e-mail to the Ministry of the Attorney General saying he had a grudge against the court system dating back 20 years, Bovard noted in his decision.
In addition, Triffon declared he was “racist and unfit for jury service” in the e-mail, demanded the ministry cancel his jury duty, and threatened to create a hung jury if it refused to do so.
Scott Hutchison, a partner at Stockwoods LLP in Toronto, says while it’s not unusual for jurors to attempt to avoid jury duty, Triffon likely believed what he was saying.
“I think in this case, it looks as though the Crown saw him as an extreme example of that,” says Hutchison in reference to people who try to get out of jury duty.
“It sounds like he probably did believe everything he claimed rather than it being a case of him simply trying to get out of jury duty.
So he probably wasn’t trying to obstruct justice but simply was saying, ‘I’m not going to be fit to be a juror.’ In that case, it wouldn’t qualify as obstruction because the judge is saying he isn’t really obstructing the jury selection process by doing that.”
In his e-mail to the ministry, Triffon said he had a letter from his doctor to show the court and demanded to appear before a judge when he arrived for jury duty in order to present it, Bovard noted in his decision.
According to the ruling, the letter was from Amy Freedman, a psychologist who had been treating him since 2003.
In her letter, Freedman described Triffon as “generally hostile to government, the police, and the court system” and recommended excusing him from jury duty.
Bovard’s decision noted the Toronto Public Library had banned Triffon for eight weeks in 2007 for “unacceptable behaviour” involving a black person and made that fact apparent in a letter to the Toronto sheriff’s office shortly before his date for jury duty.
In May 2011, Superior Court Justice John McMahon excused Triffon from jury duty based on his e-mail to the ministry, the letters, his circular, and his arrest for attempting to obstruct justice earlier that morning.
According to Bovard’s ruling, Triffon told McMahon the courts had treated him very badly 20 years ago and that “ever since then, my sole agenda has been . . . to get revenge on the courts, and, indirectly, against the government for various things.”
The Crown had argued Triffon was attempting to subvert the jury selection process and a potential trial through his actions.
The Crown also maintained Triffon was trying to blackmail the court and usurp its function during the selection process by not allowing the judge to decide who would be on the jury panel.
But Bovard disagreed and found flaws in the Crown’s argument.
“I find that by asserting that he would use his vote, position, and influence as a jury member to cause a ‘hung jury’ irrespective of the evidence at trial, Mr. Triffon merely threatened to obstruct justice should he be selected to serve on a jury,” wrote Bovard.
“He did not bring his circular to court and he did not have any contact with potential jury members. I find that the evidence shows that Mr. Triffon was attempting to get out of jury duty, not to obstruct justice by causing a hung jury.”
Triffon’s counsel had argued he was merely threatening to attempt to obstruct justice and that there was no authority for the idea that “the initial jury selection process, prior to trial, is a judicial process.”
Bovard, however, found otherwise on that question. “Under the Juries Act, the sheriff is authorized and directed to select a group of citizens from which counsel will pick juries according to the procedure in the Criminal Code referred to above,” he wrote.
“The sheriff does not perform this task before a judge; however, I find that the act contains provisions that demonstrate that the sheriff does this ‘under the authority of a court of justice’ and is subject to the direction of a Superior Court judge.”