Monday 19 February 2018

Retrial of child-minder charged with causing serious harm to baby collapses after juror admits to Google search

Accusations: Sandra Higgins. Photo: Collins Courts
Accusations: Sandra Higgins. Photo: Collins Courts

Sarah Jane Murphy

The retrial of a child-minder charged with causing serious harm to a ten-month-old baby has collapsed because of a juror researching the case on the internet.

Minutes after the jury had retired to consider their verdict following the conclusion of closing speeches, a juror requested to speak to Judge Martin Nolan about “a matter of concern.”

The juror said that earlier today, during initial discussions about evidence in the case, the jury foreman disclosed to her that she had googled background information regarding one of the witnesses in the case.

“I now feel that I am personally tainted, and that I can't go in there and deliberate,” she said.

After confirmation with the jury foreman that she had googled the witness Judge Nolan told the jury he was discharging it.

Sandra Higgins (36) of The Beeches, Drumgola Wood, Cavan town, Co Cavan had pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to intentionally or recklessly causing serious harm to the baby at her home on March 28 2012.

It is the State's case that on that day the baby was subjected to an assault sometime between 1:30 pm and 4:30 pm, when the defendant presented the child for treatment at Cavan General Hospital suffering from seizures, a detached retina, hemorrhaging in the eye and a traumatic brain injury.

This was a retrial after a jury in the first trial failed to reach a verdict. The court heard that the Director of Public Prosecutions will now consider whether to go for a third trial.

Judge Nolan said he'd like the Director to consider the matter carefully given what occurred.

“It's automatic that in modern society people conduct internet searches. Everyone has a laptop,” he said.

Before discharging the jury Judge Nolan told the jury foreman that he indicated that jurors should not look up the case on the internet.

“You disobeyed my instruction,” Judge Nolan said. The judge thanked the jury for it's time during the six day trial and added that it is “with great reluctance” that he discharge them.

He also praised the juror who brought the matter to his attention, saying that it took courage. The judge said the defendant is entitled to a fair trial and “the people of Ireland are entitled to have trials conducted fairly.”

Judge Nolan remanded Sandra Higgins on continuing bail, and said the case will be dealt with on May 11th.

“It is a matter of great importance that the matter be dealt with expeditiously,” he said.

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