Monday, December 22, 2008
A Jury Of His Priors: Court Of Appeals Of Iowa Reverses Murder Conviction Based Upon Extraneous Prejudicial Information Reaching The Jury
The recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Iowa in State v. Allen, 2008 WL 5234319 (Iowa.App. 2008), represents the rare example of a court reversing a conviction based upon post-verdict jury impeachment.
In Allen, Jarmaine Allen appealed his judgment and sentence for first degree murder on several grounds. And one of those grounds was "that jurors were exposed to several types of extraneous information during deliberations." The Court of Appeals of Iowa found that it could hear this argument notwithstanding Iowa Rule of Evidence 5.606(b), which states in relevant part that:
"[u]pon 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."
Because Allen was claiming that the jury was exposed to extraneous prejudicial information during deliberations, Iowa Rule of Evidence 5.606(b) did not provide a bar to jury impeachment. And what was this extraneous prejudicial information? Well,
"[t]wo jurors testified that one of their peers told them Allen was incarcerated for another offense at the time of this trial. One juror said, 'Somebody mentioned that [Allen] had already been convicted of one crime so not to worry about convicting him of this one since he was already doing jail time.' Another stated he heard a juror say that Allen 'was incarcerated currently for something else.'"
Now, the trial court previously heard this testimony but decided not to reverse Allen's conviction because "the fact that the defendant had previously been incarcerated was already made part of the record." The Court of Appeals of Iowa, however, found that the trial court missed the point. According to that court, while there was evidence produced at trial which indicated that Allen had previously been incarcerated, "[t]here was no indication that Allen was in prison at the time of this trial."
The Court of Appeals thus reversed and remanded because it concluded that the extraneous prejudicial information concerning Allen's incarceration was sufficiently prejudicial to deny him a fair trial. And based upon the aforementioned facts, this decision seems correct to me.