Monday, June 8, 2009
Sitting On The Jury: New York Court Precludes Jury Impeachment Based Upon Defendant's Inaction During Trial
A lot of posts on this blog have dealt with Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) and state counterparts and whether and when jurors may impeach their verdicts after they have been rendered. According to most courts, including New York state courts, jurors may impeach their verdicts if they were tainted by extraneous prejudicial information, such as news articles discussing evidence deemed inadmissible at a defendant's trial. But what happens if defense counsel is aware of such extraneous prejudicial information during trial but does not request a mistrial or a jury inquiry? The answer, at least according to the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department, in its recent opinion in People v. Liggan, 2009 WL 1373775 N.Y.A.D. 1 Dept. 2009), is that the defendant is out of luck.
In Liggan, Stacy Liggan was convicted of criminal possession in the third degree. He subsequently appealed, claiming that the verdict was tainted because one of the jurors was aware that one of Liggan's original codefendants had pleaded guilty to the subject crime, even though that plea had been deemed inadmissible at Liggan's trial. And, as noted, if this was the first that Liggan or his attorney had heard about such knowledge, Liggan likely would have been successful in his attempt to have the juror impeach the verdict. The problem for Liggan, however, was that this was not the first thing that his attorney and he had heard about such knowledge.
[d]uring the trial, the court and all parties learned that one or more news articles about a jailhouse fight between one of defendant's original codefendants and a defendant in a notorious unrelated case tangentially mentioned that the codefendant had pleaded guilty in this case. At that time, defendant's counsel declined the trial court's invitation to conduct an inquiry of the jurors, instead requesting that the court reiterate its admonition to the jurors to avoid reading news accounts about the trial.
The court thus found that
Since counsel was aware, during the trial, of a potential danger of exposure of jurors to this information, but declined a remedy that would have obviated the need for postverdict proceedings or a new trial, the postverdict disclosure was not a basis for setting aside the verdict.
This seems like the correct ruling to me. If a defendant is convicted based upon extraneous prejudicial information about which he was unaware during trial, he should be able to have jurors impeach their verdict, which was not based upon the evidence presented. But when the defendant is aware of such extraneous prejudicial information during trial and does not seek a mistrial or removal of jurors, he should not be given a second bite of the apple after the verdict has been rendered.