Lawyers for Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera were granted additional time on Friday to seek a new trial based on evidence of juror misconduct that surfaced this week, as well as a hearing at which jurors could be questioned under oath.
Guzman was convicted on Feb. 12 on drug and other charges carrying a mandatory life sentence, but this week Vice News reported in an online story that a member of the anonymous jury panel in an interview described widespread juror violations of a prohibition on reading media accounts during trial.
"Mr. Guzman intends to file a motion for a new trial based on the disclosures in the article and to request an evidentiary hearing to determine the extent of the misconduct," defense lawyer Eduardo Balarezo wrote in Friday's letter to Brooklyn U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan.
Typically, the defense has 14 days after a verdict to seek a new trial based on legal errors. The letter, the first official notice that Guzman will move for a new trial, also asked for a 30-day extension to file a motion.
Cogan immediately approved a deadline of March 28. Prosecutors took no position.
Guzman, 61, was convicted of running a criminal enterprise responsible for smuggling an estimated $14 billion of cocaine into the United States over three decades, and using murder as well as corruption to maintain control. He faces a mandatory life prison term at his sentencing, scheduled for June.
The conviction followed a 2½ month trial with 56 government witnesses, including 14 ex-associates of Guzman testifying as cooperating prosecution witnesses. The jurors, whose identities were kept secret for security reasons, reached the verdict after six days of deliberation.
Cogan repeatedly warned the panel throughout the trial to stay away from news reports about the case, and told jurors to not speak to one another about it until testimony was complete. Twice he questioned jurors about high-profile stories about the trial, and said he was assured they had followed his rules.
But in an article this week, the Vice reporter who covered the trial said he was contacted the day after the verdict by a juror who revealed that he and other jurors followed social media reports about the testimony, and regularly violated the judge's orders on not speaking to each other about the case.
Near the end of the trial, news reports revealed that one government witness had claimed that Guzman purchased sexual services from 13-year-old girls, testimony that was not admitted at trial.
The juror told Vice that jurors were aware of those news reports, briefly discussed them during deliberations, and lied to Cogan when he asked right after the stories appeared if any jurors had been exposed to publicity.
Legal experts say the misconduct, if it occurred, could provide a strong basis for requesting a new trial, but a news story alone would not be a sufficient basis for Cogan to act.