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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Not Feeling Minnesota: Minnesota Appeal Reveals That The State Allows Jury Impeachment Based Upon Internal Threats Of Violence Or Actual Violence

The recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Minnesota in State v. Moore, 2009 WL 304802 (Minn.App. 2009), reveals that Minnesota permits jurors to impeach their verdicts after trial through testimony concerning threats of violence or actual violence by other jurors. And I wonder whether readers of this blog agree with the distinction drawn by the state.

In Moore, Curtis Moore appealed from his convictions for 1st and 3rd degree criminal sexual conduct, alleging, inter alia, jury misconduct. Specifically, the ground for this argument on appeal was that:

"Less than two hours after the verdict was entered, [juror] A.S. telephoned the district judge's chambers and stated that she was 'not ok' with the verdict....At [a subsequent] summary hearing, Moore's attorney reported that after the trial, while he was speaking to another juror about what had influenced their decision, A.S. approached and listened to the conversation. A.S. was crying. The first juror referenced some 'personal attacks' by another juror directed to him and A.S.

The district court continued the hearing to the next day and prohibited the parties from contacting any of the jurors. At the continued hearing, Moore requested a Schwartz hearing based on allegations of 'personal attacks' during deliberations and A.S.'s telephone call to the district court. The district court denied the motion, concluding that Moore had not established a prima facie case of juror misconduct. But the district court permitted the parties to contact A.S. and told them to come back if there was additional evidence supporting a Schwartz hearing. On behalf of the prosecutor, a police officer contacted A.S. that day. A.S. said she was not threatened with physical violence or coerced during deliberations, but she felt 'pressured' by the jurors to reach a guilty verdict. A report of this conversation was forwarded to the district court.

Months later, Moore's attorney sent the district court an investigator's report of a conversation with A.S. A.S. told the investigator that she did not believe that there was enough evidence to convict Moore and she felt pressured to change her vote to 'guilty.' She stated that she was not coerced or physically threatened but noted that one juror made 'highly inappropriate' personal attacks against another juror. She also stated that one of the sequestered jurors had left the hotel to move his car. Neither party moved for a Schwartz hearing based on the additional conversations with A.S."

In Moore's appeal, he claimed that the court erred in not holding a Schwartz hearing to address this alleged jury misconduct. Those familiar with Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) might wonder why it was even a possibility that the jury in Moore might have been able to impeach its verdict based upon threatened or actual juror attacks, something internal to the jury deliberation process. That Rule (and many state counterparts) provides 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."

Because threatened or actual violence by jurors does not fall under any of these three exceptions, it would not form the proper predicate for jury impeachment although some courts have mused in dicta that they might read in such an exception in an certain cases. See, e.g., Anderson v. Miller, 346 F.3d 315, 327 (2nd Cir. 2003) ("It is certainly far from unreasonable to conclude that credible allegations of threats of violence leveled by one juror by another would fall within this exception.").

Minnesota Rule of Evidence 606(b), however, 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, or as to any threats of violence or violent acts brought to bear on jurors, from whatever source, to reach a verdict." (emphasis added).

As is clear from the italicized language, Minnesota does explicitly allow for jury impeachment based upon allegations of threatened or actual violence. The Committee Comment to the Rule both explains the reason that it was amended to be different from Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) and the reason why the Rule was inapplicable in Moore. According to the Comment:

"The amended rule allows jurors to testify about overt threats of violence or violent acts brought to bear on jurors by anyone, including by other jurors. Threats of violence and use of violence is clearly outside of the scope of the acceptable decisionmaking process of a jury. The pressures and dynamics of juror deliberations will frequently be stressful and jurors will, of course, become agitated from time to time. The trial court must distinguish between testimony about 'psychological' intimidation, coercion, and persuasion, which would be inadmissible, as opposed to express acts or threats of violence."

So, this is the distinction I mentioned above. And I have to say that I'm not buying it. Is Minnesota saying that psychological intimidation and coercion are not clearly outside the scope of the acceptable decisionmaking process of the jury? Is it saying that a juror's threat to punch another juror if he doesn't vote "guilty" forms a proper predicate for jury impeachment but a juror's threat to ruin another juror's reputation or finances does not? Such distinctions seem arbitrary to me. What do readers think?

-CM

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

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