Wednesday, May 19, 2010
We The Jury: Court Of Appeals Of Texas Finds Allegations Of Derogatory Intimidation Insufficient To Allow Jury Impeachment
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 jury's deliberations, or on any juror's mind or emotions or mental processes, as influencing any juror's assent to or dissent from the verdict or indictment. Nor may a juror's affidavit or any statement by a juror concerning any matter about which the juror would be precluded from testifying be admitted in evidence for any of these purposes. However, a juror may testify: (1) whether any outside influence was improperly brought to bear upon any juror; or (2) to rebut a claim that the juror was not qualified to serve.
In other words, jurors cannot impeach verdicts based upon allegations of threatened or actual physical violence or intimidation by other jurors (except in Minnesota). So, does this rule make sense? Well let's look at the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Texas, Tyler, in Lee v. State, 2010 WL 1899675 (Tex.App.-Tyler 2010).
In Lee, Darrell Lee was convicted of indecency with a child by contact. Lee thereafter appealed, claiming, inter alia, that he was entitled to a new trial hearing based upon evidence of juror misconduct.
In support of his motion, [Lee] attached the affidavit of juror Betty Hicks. In her affidavit, Juror Hicks stated that she believed [Lee] was not guilty and disbelieved the testimony of the alleged victim in the case. She stated further that "once my opinion was expressed in the jury room other jurors began to intimidate me in a derogatory fashion until I agreed to vote in favor of guilt." She then stated that she would have voted not guilty but for the misconduct of the other jurors.
The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that Hicks' affidavit was inadmissible under Texas Rule of Evidence 606(b) because it merely alleged that there was an improper insider (intrajury) influence, not an improper outside influence. As support for its conclusion, the court cited to two previous opinions. In Thomas v. State, 84 S.W.3d 370 (Tex.App.-Beaumont 2002), a court did not allow a juror to impeach a verdict through allegations that she was involuntarily "pulled up" in her chair by the jury foreman, who also refused to submit her question to the court. And in Hart v. State, 115 S.W.3d 117 (Tex,App.-Texarkana 2000), a court refused to allow a juror to impeach a verdict through allegations that he wanted to change his "guilty" vote to "not guilty" but was repeatedly told by the other jurors that they would not allow him to do so.
So, do these rulings make sense? Should we uphold verdicts when other jurors refuse to allow a juror to change his vote? When the foreperson refused to allow another juror to submit a question to the court (or when the foreperson blocks another person from leaving the jury room)? When the foreperson engages in violence against another juror? When jurors intimidate another juror into changing her vote? I understand that courts want to protect the privacy of jurors and the sanctity of deliberations, but does the anti-jury impeachment rule go too far?