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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Majority Rule: Mississippi Court Finds Juror Can't Impeach Verdict Through Claim Of Majority Vote

Despite the defendant's protestations to the contrary, the type of jury misconduct that allegedly occurred in Edwards v. State, 2008 WL 522608 (Miss.App. 2008), is exactly the type of misconduct that does not form the proper predicate for jury impeachment under Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) and state counterparts.

In Edwards, Kanethia Edwards, an eleventh grade student, was convicted of aggravated assault based upon a fight with Angelique Lewis, another eleventh grade student, whom Edwards stabbed with a knife.  After she was convicted, Edwards appealed, claiming, inter alia, that the circuit judge should have granted an evidentiary hearing for her to set forth proof that the jury based its guilty verdict on a majority vote instead of reaching a unanimous decision.

Edwards claimed that a hearing was warranted because she obtained an affidavit from a juror named Usry, which stated:

     "During the course of deliberations the jurors, including myself, discussed the case and votes three (3) times on the verdict. The first vote was seven (7) for not guilty and five (5) for guilty. We continued to deliberate and after [the vote] was nine (9) for 'not guilty' and three (3) for 'guilty.' We continued to deliberate and took a third vote. Prior to the third vote, the foreman...and others began to discuss that on the next vote we should go by the majority and allow the majority vote to be the verdict of the jury. The foreman suggested that in order to reach a verdict the jury should agree to allow the majority to be the verdict. During the discussions about the majority vote, I, and at least two (2) other jurors voiced that no matter what the vote was, we were going to vote 'not guilty.' When the last vote turned out to be seven (7) for guilty and five (5) for 'not guilty' one of the ladies on the jury wrote the verdict on a sheet of paper and gave it to the foreman and he knocked on the door. We then went in to the courtroom and the foreman gave the verdict to the court."

The Court of Appeals of Mississippi, however, in addition to finding that Edwards' claim was procedurally barred, concluded that Usry's affidavit was inadmissible under Mississippi Rule of Evidence 606(b), which states 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 his or any other juror's mind or emotions as influencing him to assent to or dissent from the verdict or indictment or concerning his 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. Nor may his affidavit or evidence of any statement by him concerning a matter about which he would be precluded from testifying be received for these purposes."

According to Edwards, Usry's affidavit proved "that extraneous prejudicial information was introduced into the jury's deliberation."  But it seems clear to me that the court was correct in finding that the decision to have a majority vote was properly characterized as an internal matter decided solely by the jurors and not as the product of any improper external evidence or influence.

And indeed, this conclusion finds support in the Advisory Committee's Note to Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b).  According to that Note, Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) was drawn from common law cases, which had held that testimony or affidavits of jurors were incompetent to show, inter alia, "a compromise verdict" or "a quotient verdict."

A "compromise verdict" is "a decision made by a jury in which the jurors split the difference between the high amount of damages which one group of jurors feel is justified and the low amount other jurors favor."  And a "quotient verdict" is "an award of money damages set by a jury in a lawsuit in which each juror states in writing his/her opinion of what the amount should be. Then the amounts are totalled and divided by the number of jurors to reach a figure for the award."

While I still question the efficacy of Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) and state counterparts, I odn't see how they can be applied to quotient verdicts and compromise verdicts, but not majority verdicts.

-CM 

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2008/12/606b-edwards-v.html

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