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

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ford Tough: Ninth Circuit Preludes Jury Impeachment In Case Against Ford

The recent opinion of the Ninth Circuit in Beville v. Ford Motor Co., Inc., 2009 WL 394809 (9th Cir. 2009), presents a nice illustration of two types of jury conduct that do not form a proper predicate for jury impeachment.

In Beville, Dawn Beville sued the Ford Motor Company, alleging that Ford's decision not to mandate a back-up alarm on one of its semi-truck models was a design defect and that the defect caused an accident in which of one of these vehicles backed up into Paul Beville, crushing and killing him. And after a jury entered a verdict in favor of Ford, Dawn moved for a new trial.

Part of the basis for her motion was that (a) one juror prepared a series of questions and answers while at home during a break in deliberations and discussed these notes with the jury, and (b) another juror discussed his personal experience with a forklift. The Ninth Circuit, however, found that neither of these alleged acts formed the proper predicate for jury impeachment pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b), which indicates 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. But a juror may testify about (1) whether extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jury's attention, (2) whether any outside influence was improperly brought to bear upon any juror, or (3) whether there was a mistake in entering the verdict onto the verdict form.

With regard to the juror's shared notes, the Ninth Circuit correctly found that the jurors shared notes were neither extraneous prejudicial information nor an improper outside influence because "the notes reflected the juror's internal thought processes, and there is no evidence the juror relied on extrinsic materials in preparing them." And with regard to the juror's forklift comments, the court again correctly concluded that "[t]he personal experiences described here were of the type permissible for discussion during juror deliberations." As support for this finding, the court cited to its previous opinion in Grotemeyer v. Hickman, 393 F.3d 871, 879 (9th Cir. 2004), where it noted that:

a juror's past personal experiences may be an appropriate part of the jury's deliberations. Indeed, 50% of the jurors' time [is] spent discussing personal experiences, according to one researcher.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2009/02/606b-beville-v.html

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