EvidenceProf Blog

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

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Sunday, March 29, 2009

You're Gonna Get Out In Forever And A Day: Kentucky District Court Precludes Jury Impeachment In Capital Habeas Appeal

Last November, I posted an entry about United States v. Jackson, 2008 WL 4901375 (5th Cir. 2008), in which death-sentenced David Jackson moved for a new trial, alleging, inter alia, that the jury erroneously believed that even if Jackson were sentenced to life without parole, it was still possible he could be released before the end of his life, despite the district court's explicit instruction to the contrary. The Fifth Circuit denied Jackson's motion, finding that the jurors could not impeach their verdict through evidence of a misunderstood jury instruction.  The recent opinion of the United States District Court for the Wester District of Kentucky in Matthews v Simpson, 2009 WL 722073 (W.D. Ky. 2009), is cut from a similar cloth.

In Matthews, David Matthews brought a petition for writ of habeas corpus after he had unsuccessfully appealed from his convictions for murder and burglary and death sentence in the Kentucky state court system. One of the grounds for Matthews' challenge to his death sentence was that jurors considered the possibility that he could be paroled in deciding upon his sentence, which was prohibited under Kentucky law at the time of his trial.  In support of his petition, Matthews submitted, inter alia, the affidavits of jurors David Eugene Durham and Mary Jo Fisher Raichart.  Durham's affidavit stated:

1. I was a juror in the 1981 capital trial of David Eugene Matthews in Louisville, Kentucky.

2. While we as a jury were deliberating on the kind and type of sentence to recommend for Mr. Matthews, one of the jurors said that they thought that no matter what kind of sentence we gave him, that he would be eligible for parole within a short period of time after being sentenced.

3. We all felt that this had a great impact upon our sentencing decision, therefore, we asked the judge how we were to consider parole in the sentencing choices we had to make.

4. The judge told us he could not answer our questions. However, he never told us not to consider parole in deciding upon an appropriate sentence.

5. Because we believed that Mr. Matthews might be eligible for parole in a relatively short period of time if we handed down a sentence of less than death, I voted for the death penalty so that Mr. Matthews would have to stay in prison.


Similarly, Fisher Raichart's affidavit stated:

1. I was a juror in the 1982 capital trial of David Eugene Matthews in Louisville, Kentucky.

2. My name at the time of the trial was Mary Jo Fisher. My name is now Mary Jo Fisher Raichart. The jury was concerned about the possibility of parole within a short time.

3. We all felt that this had a great impact upon our sentencing decision, therefore, we asked the judge how we were to consider parole in the sentencing choices we had to make.

4. The judge told us he could not answer our questions. He never told us not to consider parole in deciding upon an appropriate sentence.

5. Because we believed that Mr. Matthews might be eligible for parole in a relatively short period of time if we handed down a sentence of less than death, I voted for the death penalty so that Mr. Matthews would have to stay in prison.  


The problem for Matthews was Federal 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 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. A juror's affidavit or evidence of any statement by the juror may not be received on a matter about which the juror would be precluded from testifying.


Using this Rule, the court found that Matthews did not present it 

with any evidence that the jury considered some external piece of information that was not admitted at trial in reaching its sentencing verdict. If that were the case, then the court might be able to consider it. Rather, Matthews...presented the Court with only affidavits from two jurors stating that the possibility of parole influenced their verdict....[S]uch evidence is undisputably intrinsic in nature, and therefore, inadmissible under Rule 606(b).


Alternatively, the court found that it could not award habeas relief to Matthews because "[e]ven if the court were to consider this evidence, the fact that the jury considered parole in violation of Kentucky law does not establish a violation of federal law."

Undoubtedly, this was the correct decision under current law, but I still remain uncomfortable applying the anti-jury impeachment rule when it is a person's life, and not merely his liberty, at stake.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2009/03/deathpenaltymatthews-v-simpson----fsupp2d------2009-wl-722073wdky2009.html

| Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341bfae553ef01156f68eba7970b

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference You're Gonna Get Out In Forever And A Day: Kentucky District Court Precludes Jury Impeachment In Capital Habeas Appeal:

Comments

Post a comment