Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Oh, God!: Court Of Appeals Of Texas Precludes Jury Impeachment Regarding Juror Saying God Sent Jury To Make A Decision
A defendant is on trial for three counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child and one count of indecency with a child by sexual contact. After deliberating for less than a day, the jury sends the judge a note stating that the jury is "hung." Without objection from either side, the judge instructs the jury to "please continue with your deliberations." And the jury does indeed continue to deliberate...for a few minutes, before coming back with a verdict. In those few minutes, a female juror tells the foreperson that God sent the jury to make a decision and that it was the jury's duty to do so; thereafter, the jury compromises, finding the defendant guilty on two counts and not guilty on two counts. After he is convicted, should the defendant be able to present evidence of what transpired in those few minutes? According to the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Texas, San Antonio, in Orozco v. State, 2010 WL 3782198 (Tex.App.-San Antonio 2010), the answer is "no."
In Orozco, the facts were as stated above, with Ralph Orozco, Jr. being the defendant.
After the verdict was entered, Orozco's counsel and the prosecutor spoke to several jurors. According to Orozco, specifically his counsel's affidavit admitted during the hearing on the motion for new trial, one or more jurors related that the foreperson did not "think the defendant was guilty but he didn't know if he was innocent." However, after a female juror told the foreperson God had sent the jury to make a decision and it was the jury's duty to do so, the jury compromised, finding Orozco guilty on two counts and not guilty on two counts, which allowed the jurors to be released from service. Counsel also stated in her affidavit that a juror, the same one that told the foreperson about the jury's duty, told her the foreperson was gay and this disgusted the juror.
Orozco sought to present evidence of this jury misconduct, but the Court of Appeals of Texas, San Antonio, found it was inadmissible under Texas Rule of Evidence 606(b), which provides 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 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.
Texas Rule of Evidence 606(b) is Texas' counterpart to Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b), and the Advisory Committee's Note to the federal rule clearly indicates that jurors can't testify that a verdict was a compromise verdict. Orozco responded that the application of Rule 606(b) violated his right to due process, but the court again disagreed, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a similar argument in Tanner v. United States, 483 U.S. 107 (1987), in which it found that application of Rule 606(b) to preclude allegations that jurors got drunk, used and sold drugs, and fell asleep during deliberations did not violate the defendants' constitutional rights.