Friday, March 27, 2009
Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) generally precludes courts from peering behind the jury room curtain after a verdict has been rendered. Well, to put it more specifically, the Rule does not preclude courts from such peering, but it does preclude litigants from using what is found to challenge the verdict. And, as the recent opinion of the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan in Torrez v. McKee, 2009 WL 528950 (W.D. Mich. 2009), makes clear, what courts find is frequently disturbing.
In McKee, Jose Torres brought a petition for writ of habeas corpus after he was unsuccessful in appealing his convictions for assault with intent to commit murder, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and assault with intent to commit great bodily harm in the Michigan state court system. Part of the basis of Torres' motion was that the Michigan courts improperly refused to reverse the jury's verdict, despite post-trial allegations by juror Catherine Jacobs that
-she and three other jurors believed that the verdict most properly should be guilt on the offense of assault with intent to commit great bodily harm, rather than assault with intent to murder.
-the foreman repeatedly told the other jurors that intent was irrelevant and that the only issue was whether an ordinary person would pull out a gun and fire at people;
-various jurors concluded that Petitioner was in a gang and expressed their beliefs that gang members wanted to kill people;
-one juror expressed her belief "that these kids are all alike, that they are angry, and that they think that society owes them, and she said she's seen people like the Defendant before;"
-another juror stated, "Oh, this country's going to hell because people get let off, and they let all the bad guys go free;" and
-the day that the verdict was rendered was long, with jurors not having a dinner break, and that she felt worn down by the other jurors, one of whom was angry that the trial had continued so long that he would miss a big band concert.
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.
According to the Western District of Michigan, because "the allegations in the instant case involve[d] matters intrinsic to the jury's deliberations..., the jury's verdict [wa]s not subject to impeachment by evidence from one of the jurors." Undoubtedly, this ruling was correct under Rule Evidence 606(b), but I can't imagine that many people are completely satisfied with this result.