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

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Blame The Media: Supreme Court of Utah Ignores Alleged Juror Exposure To Media Coverage In Rule 606(b) Ruling

The Supreme Court of Utah's recent opinion in Allen v. Friel, 2008 WL 3835061 (Utah 2008), contains a seemingly disastrous oversight in its (mis)application of Utah Rule of Evidence 606(b).  In Friel, Paul Allen was convicted of hiring an accomplice to kill his wife.  Allen later made several claims over several appeals, including the claim that the trial court erred in denying the jurors' request for transcripts of the prosecution witness' testimony.  He attempted to bolster this claim through the affidavit of juror Trenton David, which stated that if the trial judge would have allowed the jurors to see the transcript of a particular prosecution witness, "it was very likely that I would have found Paul Allen innocent of all charges."

The Utah Supremes disagreed, first properly finding that the trial judge's decision to deny jurors the requested transcripts was in line with Utah Rule of Criminal Procedure 17.  The court then noted that David's affidavit was inadmissible under Utah 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 on the question whether extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jury's attention or whether any outside influence was improperly brought to bear upon any juror."

The court then found that David's affidavit was inadmissible under the Rule because it clearly contained "testimony about the effect a particular piece of evidence would have had on his mind during deliberation."  Undoubtedly, this was the correct decision, but there remained one problem:  There was more to David's affidavit.

According to the court, "Mr. David also stated that he witnessed jurors disobeying the court's instructions not to view any media coverage of the case or discuss the case during the trial. Finally, Mr. David expressed his opinion that some of the other jurors were biased prior to trial because of exposure to media coverage of the trial."  Now, to the extent that the affidavit mentioned jurors discussing the case during trial, it was inadmissible because it related to matters internal to the jury deliberation process and did not relate to anything external to that process.

The allegation that jurors disobeyed the court's instructions and ostensibly viewed media coverage of the case, however, is a different matter.  Such media coverage could be viewed either as extraneous prejudicial information or an improper outside influence on juror deliberations and should have formed the basis for proper jury impeachment under Rule 606(b).  See, e.g., Drew v. State, 76 S.W.3d 436, 460 (Tex.App.-Houston 2002) ("Media coverage about appellant constitutes an outside influence, and Rule 606(b) thus permits a juror to testify about such.").  The Supreme Court of Utah, however, didn't address this part of the affidavit, thereby leaving some seemingly very important evidence on the table.

-CM 

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2008/08/utah-606b-allen.html

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