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In the context of trials, the isolation of a jury from the public, or the separation of witnesses to ensure the integrity of testimony. In other legal contexts the seizure of property or the freezing of assets by court order.
In jury trials, judges sometimes choose to sequester the jurors, or place them beyond public reach. Usually the jurors are moved into a hotel, kept under close supervision twenty-four hours a day, denied access to outside media such as television and newspapers, and allowed only limited contact with their families.
Although unpopular with jurors, sequestration has two broad purposes. The first is to avoid the accidental tainting of the jury, and the second is to prevent others from intentionally tampering with the jurors by bribe or threat. Trial publicity, public sentiment, interested parties, and the maneuverings and machinations of lawyers outside the courtroom can all taint the jurors' objectivity and deny the defendant a fair trial. Judges are free to sequester the jury whenever they believe any of these factors may affect the trial's outcome.
Jury sequestration is rare. Typically ordered in sensational, high-profile criminal cases, sequestration begins immediately after the jury is seated and lasts until the jury has delivered its verdict. It is unusual for juries to be sequestered longer than a few days or a week. Occasionally, however, jurors are sequestered for weeks. The 1995 trial of former football star O. J. (Orenthal James) Simpson for murder was highly unusual: the Simpson jury was sequestered for eight and a half months—half as long as the period Simpson was imprisoned while under arrest and on trial. The experience provoked protest from the jurors and calls for legal reform.
The sequestration of witnesses differs from that of jurors. Whereas jurors are kept away from the public, witnesses typically are ordered not to attend the trial—or follow accounts of it—until they are to testify. This judicial order is intended to assure that the witnesses will testify concerning their own knowledge of the case without being influenced by testimony of prior witnesses. Witness sequestration also seeks to strengthen the role of cross-examination in developing facts.
Other definitions of sequestration relate to property. In Civil Law, sequester has three distinct meanings. First, it means to renounce or disclaim, as when a widow appears in court and disclaims any interest in the estate of her deceased husband; the widow is said to sequester. Second, it means to take something that is the subject of a controversy out of the possession of the contending parties and deposit it in the hands of a third person; this neutral party is called a sequestor. Third and most commonly, sequestration in civil law denotes the act of seizing property by court order.
In litigation and Equity practice, sequestration also refers to court-ordered confiscation of property. When one party sues another over an unpaid debt, the plaintiff may secure a writ of attachment. As another form of sequestration, this legal order temporarily seizes the alleged debtor's property in order to secure the debt or claim in the event that the plaintiff is successful. In equity practice—an antiquated system of justice that is now incorporated into civil justice—courts seize a defendant's property until the defendant purges herself of a charge of Contempt.
In International Law, the term sequestration signifies confiscation. Typically, it means the appropriation of private property to public use. Following a war, sequestration means the seizure of the property of the private citizens of a hostile power, as when a belligerent nation sequesters debts due from its own subjects to the enemy.
n. the act of a judge issuing an order that a jury or witness be sequestered (kept apart from outside contacts during trial). (See: sequester)
SEQUESTRATION, chancery practice. The process of sequestration is a writ of
commission, sometimes directed to the sheriff, but most usually, to four or
more commissioners of the complainant's own nomination, authorizing them to
enter upon the real or personal estate of the defendant, and to take the
rents, issues and profits into their own hands, and keep possession of, or
pay the same as the court shall order and direct, until the party who is in
contempt shall do that which he is enjoined to do, and which is specially
mentioned in the writ. 1 Harr. Ch. 191; Newl. Ch. Pr. 18; Blake's Ch. Pr.
2. Upon the return of non est inventus to a commission of rebellion, a sergeant-at-arms may be moved for; and if he certifies that the defendant cannot be taken, a motion may be made upon his certificate, for an order for a sequestration. 2 Madd. Chan. 203; Newl. Ch. Pr. 18; Blake's Ch. Pr. 103.
3. Under a sequestration upon mesne process, as in respect of a contempt for want of appearance or answer, the sequestrators may take possession of the party's personal property and keep him out of possession; but no sale can take place, unless perhaps to pay expenses; for this process is only to form the foundation of taking the bill pro confesso. After a decree it may be sold. See 3 Bro. C. C. 72; 2 Cox, 224; 1 Ves. jr. 86; 3 Bro. C. C. 372; 2 Madd. Ch. Pr. 206. See, generally, as to this species of sequestration, 19 Vin. Abr. 325; Bac. Ab. h.t.; Com.; Chancery, D 7, Y 4; 1 Hov. Supp. to Ves. jr. 25 to 29; 1 Vern. by Raith. 58, note 1; Id. 421, note 1.
SEQUESTRATION, contracts. A species of deposit, which two or more persons, engaged in litigation about anything, make of the thing in contest to an indifferent person, who binds himself to restore it when the issue is decided, to the party to whom it is adjudged to belong. Louis. Code, art. 2942; Story on Bailm: Sec. 45. Vide 19 Vin. Ab. 325; 1 Supp. to Yes. jr. 29; 1 Vern. 58, 420; 2 Ves. jr. 23; Bac. Ab. h.t. 2. This is called a conventional sequestration, to distinguish it from a judicial sequestration, which is considered in the preceding article. Sec Dalloz, Dict. mot Sequestre.
SEQUESTRATION, Louisiana practice. The Code of Practice in civil cases in
Louisiana, defines and makes the following provisions on the subject of
sequestration. Art. 269. Sequestration is a mandate of the court, ordering
the sheriff, in certain cases, to take in his possession, and to keep a
thing of which another person has the possession, until after the decision
of a suit, in order that it be delivered to him who shall be adjudged
entitled to have the property or possession of that thing. This is what is
properly called a judicial sequestration. Vide 1 Mart. R. 79; 1 L. R. 439;
Civil Code of Lo. 2941; 2948.
2.-Art. 270. In this acceptation, the word sequestration does not mean a judicial deposit, because sequestration may exist together with the right of administration, while mere deposit does not admit it.
3.-Art. 271. All species of property, real or personal, as well as the revenue proceeding from the same, may be sequestered.
4.-Art. 272. Obligations and titles may also be sequestered, when their ownership is in dispute.
5.-Art. 273. Judicial sequestration is generally ordered only at the request of one of the parties to a suit; there are cases, nevertheless, where it is decreed by the court without such request, or is the consequence of the execution of judgments.
6.-Art. 274. The court may order, ex officio, the sequestration of real property in suits, where the ownership of such property is in dispute and when one of the contending parties does not seem to have a more apparent right to the possession than the other. In such cases, sequestration may be ordered to continue, until the question of ownership shall have been decided.
7.-Art. 275. Sequestration may be ordered at the request of one of the parties in a suit in the following cases: 1. When one who had possessed for more than one year, has been evicted through violence, and sues to be restored to his possession. 2. When one sues for the possession of movable property, or of a slave, and fears that the party having possession, may ill treat the slave or send either that slave, or the property in dispute, out of the jurisdiction of the court, during the pendency of the suit. 3. When one claims the ownership, or the possession of real property, and has good ground to apprehend, that the defendant may make use of his possession to dilapidate or to waste the fruits or revenues produced by such property, or convert them to his own use. 4. When a woman sues for a separation from bed and board, or only for a separation of property from her husband, and has reason to apprehend that he will ruin her dotal property, or waste the fruits or revenues produced by the same during the pendency of the action. 5. When one has petitioned for a stay of proceedings, and a meeting of his creditors, and such creditors fear that he may avail himself of such stay of proceedings, to place the whole, or a part of his property, out of their reach. 6. A creditor by special mortgage shall have the power of sequestering the mortgaged property, when he apprehends that it will be removed out of the state before he can have the benefit of his mortgage, and will make oath of the facts which induced his apprehension.
8.-Art. 276. A plaintiff wishing to obtain an order of sequestration in any one of the cases above provided, must annex to the petition in which he prays for such an order, an affidavit, setting forth the cause for which he claims such order, he must besides, execute his obligation in favor of the defendant, for such sum as the court shall determine, with the surety of one good and solvent person, residing within the jurisdiction of the court, to be responsible for such damages as the defendant may sustain, in case such sequestration should have been wrongfully obtained.
9.-Art. 277. When security is given in order to obtain the sequestration of real property which brings a revenue, the judge must require that it be given for an amount sufficient to compensate the defendant, not only for all damage which he may sustain, but also for the privation of such revenue, during the pendency of the action.
10.-Art. 278. The plaintiff when he prays for a sequestration of the property of one who has failed, is not required to give such security, though that property bring in a revenue.
11.-Art. 279. A defendant against whom a mandate of sequestration has been obtained, except in cases of failure, may have the same set aside, by executing his obligation in favor of the sheriff, with one good and solvent surety, for whatever amount the judge may determine, as being equal to the value of the property to be left in his possession.
12.-Art. 280. The security thus given by the defendant, when the property sequestrated consists in movables or in slaves, shall be responsible that he shall not send away the same out of the jurisdiction of the court; that he shall not make an improper use of them; and that he will faithfully present them, after definitive judgment, in case he should be decreed to restore the same to the plaintiff.
13.-Art. 281. As regards landed property, this security is given to prevent the defendant, while in possession, from wasting the property, and for the faithful restitution of the fruits that he may have received since the demand, or of their value in the event of his being cast in the suit.
14.-Art. 282. When the sheriff has sequestered property pursuant to an order of the court, he shall, after serving the petition and the copy of the order of sequestration on the defendant, send him return in writing to the clerk of the court which gave the order, stating in the same in what manner the order was executed, and annex to such return a true and minute inventory of the property sequestered, drawn by him, in the presence of two witnesses.
15.-Art. 283. The sheriff, while he retains possession of sequestered property, is bound to take proper care of the same and to administer the same, if it be of such nature as to admit of it, as a prudent father of a family administers his own affairs. He may confide them to the care of guardians or overseers, for whose acts he remains responsible, and he will be entitled to receive a just compensation for his administration, to be determined by the court, to be paid to him out of the proceeds of the property sequestered, if judgment be given in favor of the plaintiff.