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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Saturday, August 2, 2008

Judge, Jury, And Influencer: Court Allows For Jury Impeachment And Reversal Based Upon "12 Angry Men" Argument

The recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Indiana in Henri v. Curto, 2008 WL 2929369 (Ind.App. 2008), is a case with an interesting Rule 606(b) ruling.  In Curto, Susana Henry met Stephen Curto at a house party near Butler University in Indianapolis, where both were students.  They hung out with other students, drank until they were both intoxicated, and eventually went back to Henri's dormitory room and engaged in a sexual encounter.  Henri filed a civil suit alleging that Curto had raped her and reported to Butler University what had happened.  The University thereafter held a hearing, with the judicial official concluding that Curto had violated University rules and suspending Curto for four years.

Curto was considerably more successful in the civil suit, where he filed a counterclaim alleging that Henri tortiously interfered with his contract with Butler University as a student enrolled in a degree program.  After a day of deliberations, the jury returned a unanimous verdict finding that Curto had not raped Henri and that Henri tortiously interfered with Curto's contract with Butler University.  But was the jury's verdict proper?

Henri didn't think so and submitted a juror's affidavit as part of a Motion to Correct Error and a Motion to Supplement the Record.  There were various and sundry allegations in the affidavit, ranging from a juror fielding a call on her cell phone during deliberations to a juror noting that she wanted deliberations to end quickly because she was leaving for vacation soon.  Despite the juror's affidavit, the trial court denied Henri's motions, and the Court of Appeals of Indiana found that most of the allegations in the affidavit either had no probable deletorious effect on jury deliberations or were inadmissible under Indiana Rule of Evidence 606(b), which states in relevant part that:

     "Upon an inquiry into the validity of a verdict or indictment, a juror may not testify as to any matter or statement occurring during the course of the jury's deliberations or to the effect of anything upon that or any other juror's mind or emotions as influencing the juror to assent to or dissent from the verdict or indictment or concerning the juror's mental processes in connection therewith, except that a juror may testify (1) to drug or alcohol use by any juror, (2) on the question of whether extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jury's attention or (3) whether any outside influence was improperly brought to bear upon any juror."

The Court of Appeals, however, found that one of the allegations in the affidavit was admissible and required reversal.  The allegation was that, twenty minutes into deliberations, the trial judge received a juror's question asking whether the verdict had to be unanimous.  The trial judge then apparently told the bailiff to instruct the jury to "continue their deliberations."  Unfortunately, in something that you might see in the game of telephone, the bailiff then told the jury that it "would have to keep deliberating until we could reach a unanimous verdict."  As the Court of Appeals correctly found, this was "an incorrect statement of the law because jurors have the opportunity to cause a mistrial or hung jury."

According to the court, this allegation was admissible because it related to an improper outside influence being brought to bear upon the jury rather than improper behavior by the jurors during deliberations.  This still left the question of whether this improper outside influence likely had a significant impact upon the verdict.  The court then answered this question in the affirmative, finding that "the statement by the bailiff conveys that jurors in the minority would face the daunting task of swaying all the other jurors if they are to stick to their convictions, a task surmountable in less than two hours on the silver screen if you are Henry Fonda, but a task that could be overwhelming in real life for the average juror."

I agree with the court's ruling and note that even the Henry Fonda character in Sidney Lumet's classic film couldn't convince his fellow jurors without some improper behavior.  Specifically, Fonda's character improperly visited the defendant's neighborhood and purchased a switchblade knife similar to the murder weapon at a pawnshop, which he showed to the other jurors, conduct which almost certainly constituted jury misconduct.  See Charles D. Weisselberg, Good Film, Bad Jury, 82 Chi-Kent L. Rev. 717, 728 (2007).

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2008/08/606b-henri-v-cu.html

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Comments

``Specifically, Fonda's character improperly visited the defendant's neighborhood and purchased a switchblade knife similar to the murder weapon at a pawnshop, which he showed to the other jurors, conduct which almost certainly constituted jury misconduct.' '

True, but it also reinforces Fonda's claim of a poor defense. The defense could have purchased a dozen knives to make the same point but didn't (we presume).

Posted by: A Voice of Sanity | Aug 5, 2008 9:06:16 PM

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