EvidenceProf Blog

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

Monday, March 30, 2009

Eleven Angry Men: Northern District Of Illinois Rejects Section 2255 Petition Alleging Missing Juror During Deliberations

The recent opinion of the United States District Court for the Nothern District of Illinois in United States v. Webster, 2009 WL 779806 (N.D. Ill. 2009), contains one of the more interesting jury impeachment questions that I have ever seen:  What happens when twelve angry men becomes eleven angry men?  For the Northern District of Illinois, the answer was "nothing," at least when the petitioner seeks relief based upon alleged juror misconduct.

In Webster, Jesse Webster was convicted of conspiracy with intent to distribute kilogram quantities of cocaine, possession with intent to distribute fifteen kilograms of cocaine, attempted possession with intent to distribute twenty-five kilograms of cocaine, and two counts of false statements on his 1992 and 1993 tax returns.  After he unsuccessfully appealed, he filed for Section 2255relief. In his Section 2255 petition, Webster alleged, inter alia, juror misconduct in that:

the docket sheet of the criminal case indicated that on November 29, 1995 the records showed that one juror was absent. A docket entry stated that the jury deliberated that day. The next day, the absent juror appeared and the twelve jurors deliberated and around noon indicated that it had reached the verdict that is the foundation for the judgment in this case.

If the docket sheet were correct, the deliberations were incorrect because the jury should not have deliberated with only eleven jurors present.  But the problem for Webster was that the bailiff serving on his trial had passed away was thus unable to testify whether the jury deliberated with only eleven jurors present and, if so, why he failed to instruct the court of this fact and have the jurors sent home.  Recognizing the potential for injustice, and notwithstanding Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b), the anti-jury impeachment rule, the judge allowed for interrogation of the jurors regarding deliberations, but the problem was that they "had incomplete memories of the deliberations."

There was understandable confusion about which days the jury sat and about who sat. Seven jurors could not recall a day when one of their members was absent. Three did recall such a day but remembered, incorrectly, that an alternate juror was seated. Another juror did recall that a male juror did not appear during trial (not during deliberations) but did come back the next day. None of the jurors recalled a day in which they were sent home early, an event which would have occurred if the normal practice regarding such events in this courthouse had been followed. None of the jurors recalled deliberating with less than all of the jurors. 

But the larger problem for Webster was that Webster's Section 2255 petition alleged juror misconduct when in fact he was alleging bailiff misconduct because it was the bailiff who should have stepped in and stopped and prompted the judge to stop deliberations.  The Northern District of Illinoisthus found that Webster's new "bailiff misconduct" claim was untimely and not cognizable because it was not of constitutional dimensions (the court also rejected Webster's other attempts to attack his convictions).  This seems like a troubling result to me, but it seems that the trouble came from the lack of reliable evidence rather then the court, which did not rigidly apply the rules of evidence.



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