EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

3 Angry Men? Judge denies defense counsel's request to interview juror about e-mail

In July, former New Jersey Commerce, Economic Growth and Tourism chief of staff Lesly Devereaux was found guilty of improperly running her personal legal practice while working for the state.

After trial, however, one juror e-mailed the state to discuss (presumably improper) activities which allegedly occurred during jury deliberations.  According to Devereaux's attorney, Jack Furlong, the activities alleged in this e-mail were similar to comments that were made by (1) a second juror to a member of Devereaux's family after trial and (2) a third juror made when he/she contacted Furlong's office after trial.

Furlong thus sought to interview the juror who sent the e-mail to determine whether the jury deliberations were tainted by possible prejudice or outside influence.  Superior Court Judge Maryann Bielamowicz denied the request, finding that the information contained in the e-mail did not suggest an improper outside influence on the jury.  Because the e-mail is under seal, its contents are unclear.

Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) states that jurors may not testify as to any matter or statement occurring during jury deliberations unless (1) extraneous prejudicial information was brought before the jury, (2) any outside influence was improperly brought to bear on any juror, or (3) there was a mistake in enetring the veridct onto the verdict form.

Thus, after trial, a juror could testify, for instance, that a newspaper article discussing evidence excluded from the jury was brought into the jury room, that a juror was threatened by a party, or that the jury intended to award $30,000 to a civil plaintiff, but the number $50,000 was mistakenly entered into the verdict form.  A juror might also be able to testify about, say, racial slurs used by jurors based upon Constitutional grounds.  A juror, however, could not testify, for instance, that a juror was sick or drunk during deliberations, that the jury ignored jury instructions, or that the jury ignored limiting instructions.

New Jersey Rule of Evidence 606 merely states that a member of the jury may not testify before the jury on which the juror is serving.  A review of New Jersey precedent, however, reveals that New Jersey courts have basically gone through the same analysis as federal courts in deterimining whether jurors can testify after trial about what happened during juror deliberations.

The fact that 3 jurors reached out after trial makes me think that the court's decision will be appealed, and it will be interesting to see whether the alleged misdeeds during deliberations are eventually revealed.

-CM

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