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

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What Would You Do?: Court Of Appeals Of Texas Correctly Applies Rule 606(b) To Prevent Jury Impeachment

I often criticize courts on this blog for the way that they apply Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) and state counterparts, but the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Texas in Gutierrez v. Martinez, 2008 WL 5392023 (Tex.App.-Houston [1 Dist.] 2008), seems to address a situation where the court had no other choice but to apply the anti-jury impeachment rule.

In Martinez, Everardo Gutierrez and Maria Sanchez were involved in a traffic accident with Arturo Martinez.  In that accident, Martinez's car collided into the rear of Gutierrez's SUV, which Gutierrez was driving, and in which Sanchez was a passenger, along with their infant, Ashley. Gutierrez subsequently sued Martinez, who did not contest his negligence in causing the collision.  Thus, the ensuing trial solely addressed the issue of whether and to what extent Martinez caused the appellants' damages for physical pain/mental anguish and their reasonable expenses of necessary medical care. And after that trial,  "[t]he jury awarded appellants no damages."

This result seemed strange to me, and it turns out that the trial court improperly excluded the appellants from presenting affidavits concerning the cost and necessity of medical services provided to them in the wake of the accident.  Of course, the result was strange to the appellants as well, and they filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, in the alternative, motion for new trial, in which they complained of the trial court's exclusion of the affidavits and argued that it led to the rendition of an improper verdict.

And in that motion, they argued that

     "the jury considered the absence of such affidavits during their deliberations and would have awarded all the damages requested if the affidavits had been provided. Appellants apparently base this assertion on allegations made in post-trial affidavits of two trial counsel regarding hearsay statements of a juror with whom counsel had a conversation after trial."

The Court of Appeals of Texas, however, correctly noted that it could not consider the jurors' post-trial affidavits pursuant to, inter alia, Texas 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 jury's deliberations, or on any juror's mind or emotions or mental processes, as influencing any juror's assent to or dissent from the verdict or indictment. Nor may a juror's affidavit or any statement by a juror concerning any matter about which the juror would be precluded from testifying be admitted in evidence for any of these purposes. However, a juror may testify: (1) whether any outside influence was improperly brought to bear upon any juror; or (2) to rebut a claim that the juror was not qualified to serve."

According to the court:

     "We do not consider any of these affidavits because the rules of civil procedure and civil evidence prohibit the consideration of evidence of statements by jurors regarding matters or statements that occurred during the course of jury deliberations, unless it involves an outside influence."

As I noted above, I agree with the Court of Appeals of Texas on this point.  The affidavits of the jurors seem speculative at best, and if they were admitted would encourage the type of judicial second guessing that Rule 606(b) is designed to avoid.

That said, while I agree with this evidentiary ruling by the Court of Appeals, I disagree with its ultimate decision to affirm the trial court's ruling.  I won't go into the details of the case on this blog, but I invite readers to check out the court's opinion to determine whether you think that the appeal was properly handled.

-CM 

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2009/01/606b-gutierrez.html

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