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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Alternate Ending: Supreme Court Of Indiana Opinion Reveals That Indiana Courts Consider Alternate Juror (Mis)Behavior An Improper Outside Influence For Jury Impeachment Purposes

Similar to its federal counterpartIndiana Rule of Evidence 606(b) indicates 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, except that a juror may testify (1) to drug or alcohol use by any juror, (2) on the question of whether extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jury's attention or (3) whether any outside influence was improperly brought to bear upon any juror. A juror's affidavit or evidence of any statement by the juror concerning a matter about which the juror would be precluded from testifying may not be received for these purposes.

(Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) does not allow jurors to impeach their verdicts through allegations of juror drug or alcohol use, but it does allow jurors to impeach their verdicts based upon transcription mistakes). But what happens when an alternate juror participates, or distracts from, the jury deliberation process. Should this be considered something internal to the jury deliberation process and thus not a proper predicate for jury impeachment, or is it an improper outside influence and thus something that can form the predicate for jury impeachment? As the recent opinion of the Supreme Court of Indiana in Henri v. Curto, 2009 WL 1685134 (Ind. 2009), makes clear, Indiana courts have found that alternate jurors are improper outside influences, meaning that jurors can testify about their misconduct to impeach their verdicts.

In Curto

Susana Henri and Stephen Curto were students at Butler University in Indianapolis in March 2004, when they met for the first time at an off-campus party. They drank alcohol, left the party together, went to a dorm room, and engaged in sexual intercourse. Alleging lack of consent, Ms. Henri subsequently sued Mr. Curto, seeking civil damages for rape. Denying the rape allegation, Mr. Curto, who had been temporarily suspended from the university in the aftermath of the incident, counterclaimed for tortious interference with his contract with the university. The parties presented their evidence to a...jury, which found against Ms. Henri on her claim and in favor of Mr. Curto on his counterclaim, awarding him damages of $45,000. Ms. Henri appealed, and a divided panel of the Court of Appeals, issuing three separate opinions, reversed and remanded for a new trial because of errors during the jury's deliberations.

Curto then appealed to the Supreme Court of Illinois. One of the errors during the jury's deliberations that apparently led to reversal was the (mis)behavior by an alternate juror during deliberations. This (mis)behavior consisted of 

the alternate juror communicated with the regular jurors during deliberations by making noises and gestures "that suggested she wanted to speak, but had caught herself," precipitating other jurors to "giggle or snicker."...The affidavit also asserted that the alternate juror used "gestures and nonverbal noises to interrupt during times when statements were made that were supportive of [Ms. Henri's] case," and that the alternate juror paced back and forth and eventually "got on the floor and began exercising," causing other jurors to laugh. 

The Supreme Court of Indiana noted that pursuant to Griffin v. State, 754 N.E.2d 899 (Ind. 2001), it had previously found that (mis)behavior by an alternate juror constituted an improper outside influence, meaning that the appellate courts properly considered the alternate's misbehavior in rendering its opinion. But the problem for Henri was that Indiana Rule of Evidence 606(b) only deals with the issue of whether evidence of such (mis)conduct is admissible, not whether it should lead to reversal. And the court found that for there to be a reversal, there had to be gross misconduct by the alternate or probable harm. On this ground, the court found the appellate court's opinion lacking because

[h]ere, while the alleged behavior of the alternate is disappointing and immature, it does not rise to gross misconduct that was likely injurious to Ms. Henri. The juror's affidavit does not demonstrate a likelihood that the antics of the alternate juror affected the decision of the regular jurors. Unlike Griffin, in which the alternate spoke about the merits of the case, this alternate was at worst an irresponsible and impolite distraction. We decline to find that the alternate's conduct amounted to gross misconduct that rendered a fair trial unlikely.

The Court thus reinstated the trial court's opinion.  

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2009/06/alternate-606bhenri-v-curto----ne2d------2009-wl-1685134ind2009.html

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