EvidenceProf Blog

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

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Juror Under The Influence: Delaware Court Denies New Trial Motion Despite Juror Conversation With Son About Drugs

A juror has heard all of the evidence in the trial of a man accused of Possession of Cocaine within 300 Feet of a Church and Possession With Intent to Deliver Cocaine. As the first day of deliberation ends, the juror believes that the defendant is guilty of possession, but is undecided on the possession with intent to distribute charge, but he is leaning against a finding of guilt. The juror thereafter discusses the case with his son, a recovering drug addict, asking him "whether the amount of drugs involved in this case was more consistent with simple possession or possession with intent to deliver." The next day, the juror returns to deliberations, agrees to vote in favor of a conviction on the possession with intent to deliver charge, and the defendant is convicted of both charges. Should the defendant be entitled to a new trial? The answer, at least according to the recent opinion of the Superior Court of Delaware in State v. Black, 2009 WL 147023 (Del. Super. 2009), is "no."

The facts presented above were basically the facts of Black, although in fairness to the court, (1) the juror claimed that he did not advise his son of the quantity of drugs seized from the defendant, but rather asked him general questions about the amount of drugs typically consumed by addicts; and (2) stated that his son was not particularly helpful and that he returned for the second day of deliberations “still undecided” on the question of possession versus possession with intent to deliver.

The court treated these allegations as follows. First, the juror was able to testify concerning these events pursuant to Delaware Rule of Evidence 606(b), which 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 his or any other juror's mind or emotions as influencing him to assent to or dissent from the verdict or indictment or concerning his 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.

The son's advice thus formed the proper predicate for jury impeachment because it consisted of extraneous prejudicial information and came from an improper outside influence. But in order for the defendant to be able to establish that he was entitled to a new trial, he had to establish that the juror misconduct at issue was "so egregious as to be inherently prejudicial" or that it caused actual prejudice." And, according to the court, the problem for the defendant was that

Based on his candid revelations,...it [wa]s clear to the Court that [the juror] received little, if any, actual guidance from these efforts. He stated that he had questions about the appropriate outcome when he went home after the first day of deliberations, and that he returned to the jury room on the second day with those same questions. As is intended by the deliberative process, he discussed the case vigorously with his fellow jurors on the second day and, ultimately, was able to join in the jury's unanimous verdicts.   

Really? At most, this shows that there was not actual prejudice, but I would argue that the juror's questions to his son, which dealt with the essential issue at trial, were "so egregious as to be inherently prejudicial." Moreover, is anybody shocked that the juror claimed that his son was not helpful and did not influence his decision? Of course, the juror wanted to downplay the role of his misconduct and claim that it was benign. This is exactly why courts in juror misconduct cases should objectively assess the prejudicial effect of external evidence/influence and not rely upon the subjective evaluations of the jurors themselves

(Hat tip to Paula Gordon for the link).



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