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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Juror's Curiosity Killed The Verdict: Court Of Appeals Of Arkansas Upholds Granting Of New Trial Based Upon Juror's Accident Scene Visit

Similar to its federal counterpart, Arkansas 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 his or any other juror's mind or emotions as influencing him to asset [assent] to or dissent from the verdict or indictment or concerning his mental processes in connection therewith, nor may his affidavit or evidence of any statement by him concerning a matter about which he would be precluded from testifying be received, but a juror may testify on the questions 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. 

And, as the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Arkansas in Campbell v. Hankins, 2009 WL 1685164 (Ark.App. 2009), makes clear, when a juror, against the judge's instructions, visits the accident/crime scene and relays what he saw to the other jurors, what he saw is extraneous prejudicial information which forms the proper predicate for jury impeachment.

In Hankins, Ms. Michael Hankins sued Mr. Leed Campbell for damages arising out of a vehicle collision that took place at an intersection in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Hankins' vehicle, which was not subject to a stop sign, struck the side of Campbell's vehicle, which had a stop sign, and the basis for Hankins' lawsuit was that Campbell was negligent in failing to stop at the stop sign, failing to maintain a proper look out, and failing to yield the right of way to her.

Prior to deliberations, the judge instructed the jurors "to determine the facts from the evidence produced in this trial." But despite this instruction, a juror apparently visited the accident scene. After the jury returned a general verdict signed by ten of the twelve jurors finding against Michael Hankins, the two holdout jurors submitted identical affidavits, which each stated,

I attest that a fellow juror [McDaniel] made an independent investigation into the facts of the case in that he reported during the deliberations that he went to the scene of the accident during the lunch break. Juror McDaniel reported the results of his investigation and his opinions regarding the same to the other jurors during the deliberations. Juror McDaniel was a juror voting in favor of the defendant and I believe his actions contributed to the verdict being handed down in favor of the defendant....

Based upon these affidavits, the trial court granted Hankins' motion for a new trial, prompting Campbell's appeal. And, in addressing that appeal, the Court of Appeals of Arkansas noted that juror accident scene visits are extraneous to the jury deliberation process, meaning that they form the proper predicate for jury impeachment notwithstanding Arkansas Rule of Evidence 606(b). It then noted that it had previously found in Diemer v. Dischler, 852 S.W.2d 793 (Ark. 1993), that there are four factors to consider in determining whether a juror's visit to the accident scene warrants a new trial:

(1) whether the trial court instructed the jury not to visit the site of the accident; (2) whether the juror offender simply voiced an opinion or engaged in an experiment relating to a crucial issue; (3) whether the offending juror's observations impugned a fact presented by a party; (4) whether the affiant describes the alleged juror with sufficient specificity, which would include identifying the names of the jurors who engaged in the acts complained of.

Applying these factors to the case before it, the court concluded that,

[h]ere, the offending juror, McDaniel, was named. Further, prior to deliberations, the jury was instructed to determine the facts from the "evidence produced in this trial." Despite this instruction, a juror went to the scene of the accident. McDaniel then "made an independent investigation of the facts of the case" and "reported the results of his investigation and his opinions regarding the same to the other jurors during the deliberations." We note that comparative negligence was at issue, and there is a reasonable possibility that McDaniel's observations and report thereon impugned facts presented by the parties. 

The Court of Appeals of Arkansas thus found that the trial court properly granted a new trial because

In its findings of fact, the court concluded that the jury failed to follow the court's instructions and considered evidence not introduced into evidence. There was a reasonable possibility that a view of the scene of the collision could have swayed jurors on the issue. Moreover, the affidavits were found by the trial court to be uncontroverted, and there is no indication in the record that any of the jurors may have already been familiar with the accident scene, as Campbell did not file any competing affidavit. We simply cannot say that the trial court's decision to grant a new trial in this case constituted a manifest abuse of discretion. 

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2009/06/crime-scene-606bcampbell-v-hankins----sw3d------2009-wl-1685164arkapp2009.html

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