Young Thug Trial Illustrates System's Strain On Jurors

By Rosie Manins | June 20, 2023, 4:53 PM EDT ·

Prospective juror No. 1,616 sits in the witness box of the downtown Atlanta courtroom and tells the judge he has three children, ages 2, 4 and 6, making it especially difficult for him to serve in what is expected to be Georgia's longest trial.

"Pray for me, please," the father tells the judge one Thursday morning in June, as he seeks to be excused from a jury selection process that began in early January and has seated not one juror.

The father, like hundreds before him, has a few minutes with Chief Judge Ural Glanville of Fulton County Superior Court to explain why he can't be on a jury for six to nine months deciding if rapper Young Thug and his alleged gang associates are behind an illegal racketeering operation masquerading as a music business.

He tells the judge that his daily schedule includes dropping his children off at 8 and 8:15 in the morning and picking them up at 12:45, 2:30 and 2:45 in the afternoon. It's just him and his wife, with help from a goddaughter once a week, the father says.

Judge Glanville has heard enough. He asks prosecutors and defense counsel if they object to prospective juror No.  1,616 being excused for hardship. No one does, and the father leaves the courtroom while the next prospective juror is called in.

Prosecutors allege that Young Thug, whose legal name is Jeffery Williams, founded an Atlanta street gang called YSL, short for Young Slime Life, that is affiliated with the national Bloods gang. A 28-defendant indictment alleges that YSL used murder, assault and threats to make money.

The case's anticipated trial length and long jury selection process — expected to last through the summer — are highlighting the expectations placed on jurors in general, Georgia attorneys say.

Trial challenges exacerbated in the Young Thug case — peppered with unusual twists over defense attorney conduct, pay and drug possession — include the compensation of jurors and their ability to sit in a courtroom all day.

"When you face the prospect of not getting paid, or getting paid $25 or $50 a day, for six to nine months, that is excluding people," said Jeff Douglass, chair of Morris Manning & Martin LLP's litigation practice, who, like other attorneys quoted in this article, has no connection to the case. "You're not getting as diverse of a jury. You're not getting a jury that's representative of the broader population."

Attention has also turned to the issue of jurors having their cellphones in court, after Judge Glanville admonished a prospective juror for recording part of jury selection on her cellphone.

Douglass and other Atlanta-based litigators said it can be a struggle to balance the need to keep jurors focused during trial without taking away the lifeline that cellphones have become.

"We have to recognize we are taking jurors out of their normal lives and asking them to do a service," said Wargo French & Singer LLP managing partner David M. Pernini. "We can only ask so much of them."

Low Compensation Leads to Smaller Jury Pool

As the hardship phase of jury selection in the Young Thug case drags on, the question of who can afford to sit on a jury for six to nine months remains unanswered. Like most counties in Georgia, Fulton County pays jurors $25 a day for expenses such as parking and lunch.

The average weekly wage in Fulton County is about $1,600, its development authority reports.

"You're talking about maybe retirees, maybe people who are unemployed already," Douglass said of the population who can afford prolonged jury duty. "And sitting in a trial for six to nine months certainly isn't going to help them in finding new employment. Regardless of how you slice it … you're excluding large swaths of the population."

Some employers will pay all or part of an employee's salary while the employee undertakes jury service, though that benefit is often only for a limited number of days, says FordHarrison LLP partner Rick Warren, who specializes in labor and employment law.

"It becomes a difficult issue," Warren told Law360. "Either you increase the jury pay, or you pass some type of legislation requiring employers to pay an employee's salary or a portion of their salary for some period of time. And I don't think there may be much appetite for either of those things to change at this point."

Warren and Douglass said the result of low juror compensation was that cases were being decided by a narrowed cross section of the community.

"If people are able to get out of jury service because of financial circumstances, then you wind up getting a skewed jury panel, which is not in the best interest, generally speaking, of the person on trial, or the community, or the judicial system," Warren said. "If you're only getting people on the jury who have so much money they don't have to work, or who don't have a job, or who are retired, you're just getting a small slice of the community."

On the morning that prospective juror No. 1,616 was excused by Judge Glanville, so, too, were others who had waited for hours outside his courtroom, hardship-associated documentation in hand.

Prospective juror No. 1,788 said she was responsible for getting a 6-year-old child to and from school each day. No one objected to her being excused.

Nor was there any opposition to excusing prospective juror No. 1,757 after she explained that her medication for chronic high blood pressure made her sleepy.

Prospective juror No. 1,772 was also excused for medical hardship, having provided a doctor's affidavit about suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, the side effects of anxiety medication, and issues related to breast implant extraction.

That morning, the prospective jurors waiting outside Judge Glanville's courtroom had been reassured by the court's jury services supervisor that a denial of their request to be excused did not mean that they would end up on the jury. The jury selection process was at Step 1 of 100, the supervisor said.

Douglass said jurors were the most important part of a trial. He said that if jurors were to receive at least minimum wage, as suggested in some states, it would help — though not solve — the problem.

"I've seen some other proposals where states or counties have talked about splitting the cost between taxpayers and the jurors' employers to try to help at least make them financially whole," he said. "It's a start, and I think it's better than the system that we have in place now."

Warren said Georgia law prohibits employers from taking adverse action against employees for serving as jurors, but doesn't require employers to pay them while they're on jury duty.

"There are only, I think, a handful of states that require some type of employer jury pay, and Georgia's not one of those," he said. "In Georgia, it's really up to the individual employer, in terms of what its policy is."

Limiting Juror Cellphone Use at Trial Is a Balancing Act

Already tight security increased in the Young Thug trial following the prospective juror's phone recording incident and other events, including the arrest of a defense attorney for allegedly having his own prescription medicine in a generic container at the courthouse.

Another defense attorney in the case has also been accused of helping his client inappropriately use his laptop during trial, leading to the computer's seizure by law enforcement officers. The defendant's alleged use of the attorney's laptop to message others on the Instagram app coincided with the arrest and firing of a Fulton County sheriff's deputy over her alleged inappropriate relationship with the incarcerated defendant.

Judge Glanville issued a temporary restraining order over any search of the computer and said he would appoint a special master to handle the matter.

As jury selection continues, the relatives and friends of the eight defendants on trial or anyone else who wants to watch the proceedings must do so in a separate courtroom, where the action is displayed on a large screen. Cellphones can only be taken into the viewing courtroom inside a custom pouch locked by a security guard, who prohibits most other items from entering.

Douglass and Pernini said the most common concern associated with jurors having their cellphones in court was that it would lead to a juror researching the case or looking up related information during trial. Losing a juror's attention during trial, even for a matter of seconds, is also among litigators' fears.

Given most people's reliance on their cellphones, there has to be a balance between a fair trial and one that is practical, the attorneys said.

"There's a ton of downtime during trials, and that's typically the time that jurors may want and need to communicate with the outside world, whether it's checking emails with their job or arranging transportation or health care," Douglass said.

Pernini said that even if a juror silences her phone during trial, she is likely to be distracted by the "buzz" of the phone receiving a message, call, or notification. That could mean the juror misses crucial testimony, he said.

"You're no longer paying attention to the conversation that is taking place," he said. "You're focused on 'I wonder who's texting me or calling me' and 'I wonder if I need to get back to them.' I think the more we allow distractions to come into the courtroom, the harder that balance is going to be."

Georgia courts have different policies about cellphones. Many trial and appellate courts allow them to be carried if silenced or turned off, while federal courts in Georgia tend to have more restrictions.

The Northern District of Georgia recently made permanent a change to its cellphone policy for jurors, allowing them to carry their devices past building security. Individual judges in the court can "choose to take up the phones of jurors serving before them," clerk Kevin P. Weimer told Law360.

Meanwhile, the Southern District of Georgia allows only authorized attorneys to bring cellphones into court. Clerk John E. Triplett said the longstanding policy wasn't likely to change.

Douglass said that the longer a trial lasts, the more difficult it is for jurors to "go into a vacuum and not have any contact with the outside world."

"If you've got a trial that's going to last six to nine months, it's incredibly difficult to completely isolate," he said. "It's just not realistic."

Douglass said he was generally comfortable with the common protections in place around juror cellphone use, including constant reminders to jurors about what they can and can't do. He said he had personally experienced "very attentive" jurors in trials lasting one to six weeks.

"There's not much more you can do. You can't confiscate their cellphones for the entire trial, it's just not feasible," he said. "You have to trust in the system."

--Editing by Karin Roberts.

Have a story idea for Access to Justice? Reach us at

Hello! I'm Law360's automated support bot.

How can I help you today?

For example, you can type:
  • I forgot my password
  • I took a free trial but didn't get a verification email
  • How do I sign up for a newsletter?
Ask a question!