Sunday, November 28, 2010
Honorable Discharge: Supreme Court Of Maine Debates When A Jury is Discharged For Jury Impeachment Purposes
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 juror's or any other juror's mind or emotions as influencing the juror to assent to or dissent from the verdict or indictment or concerning any juror's mental processes in connection therewith, except that a juror may testify on the question 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. Nor may a juror's affidavit or evidence of any statement by the juror concerning a matter about which the juror would be precluded from testifying be received.
As the Supreme Court of Maine noted in its recent opinion in State v. Hurd, 2010 WL 4608732 (Me. 2010), this Rule precludes a juror from impeaching a verdict, except under limited circumstances, once the court has taken the verdict and discharged the jury. So, when exactly is the jury discharged? That was the question that split the court in Hurd.
Ryan Hurd, Chad Bernier, and their foreman, Terry "TJ" Richardson, were working together on a construction project....After work..., the three men...had a cookout behind their motel and began drinking beer and hard liquor. When they ran out of liquor, Hurd drove them in his car...to Farmington. There they bought some beer and then went to a bar.
At the bar, all three men appeared intoxicated, though to some observers in the bar, Hurd appeared the most intoxicated. As the men were getting ready to leave the bar, a patron overheard them decide that Hurd would drive. However, no one saw who was actually driving when the car left the parking lot, and one or more bar patrons had told Richardson that he should drive because Hurd was not "good enough to drive."
As the driver was attempting to return to Kingfield, speeding in excess of ninety miles per hour, he lost control of the car in New Vineyard. The car left the road; hit a utility pole on the driver's side near the steering column, breaking the pole off; hit a tree stump; and came to rest on its roof.
Rescuers arriving at the scene found Richardson deceased on the driver's side of the car. Bernier, badly injured, was in the back seat. Hurd was apparently ejected from the vehicle and walked to a nearby house from where the owner called 911, triggering the emergency response.
In the hours and days following the accident, Hurd, and later Bernier, gave several conflicting statements as to who was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident.
Ryan Hurd was charged with one count of manslaughter, one count of OUI (Class C), and another count of OUI (Class D), which was later dismissed. At trial, the court advised the jury that a person may commit aggravated OUI as a principal or as an accomplice and instructed the jury that if it concluded that the State had failed to prove all elements of aggravated OUI, the jury must then consider if the State had proved Hurd's guilt for aggravated OUI as an accomplice (The theory on accomplice liability was that Hurd had been driving his car when the men left the bar and then switched seats with Richardson, aiding Richardson in the commission of the crime of aggravated OUI).
At the end of trial,
As to Count I, manslaughter, the foreperson reported a verdict of "not guilty." The clerk then asked the jury for its verdict with respect to Count II of the indictment, the count of aggravated OUI. The foreperson replied, "not guilty."...In response to a question by the clerk, the jury acknowledged that these were its verdicts. The court then thanked the jurors for their service, expressed regret that at points the trial had been interrupted, and discharged them from any further obligation to serve as jurors for five years. The court later reported on the record that the jurors had appeared confused when they were discharged, but that the court believed at the time that the jurors were reacting, perhaps in fear, to the emotional response in the courtroom.
The jurors left the courtroom and returned to the jury room. Within a minute or two, a judicial marshal reported to the court that the jury needed to speak to the court. The court then entered the jury room and spoke very briefly to the jury. Shortly thereafter, the jury stated in writing that it "understood there to be 3 charges and wish to speak to that as well." Over Hurd's objection, the court wrote a note back to the jury, asking, "What were the 3 charges you voted on?" The jury replied, "1. Manslaughter 2. Aggravated OUI 3. Accomplice liability." The court understood that to mean that the jury had voted on accomplice liability as though it were a separate count.
At the State's suggestion, and over Hurd's objection, the court submitted a special verdict form to the jury, asking it to "return to the jury room for further deliberations" to answer specifically whether the jury found Hurd guilty or not guilty of "aggravated operating under the influence" and whether it found Hurd guilty or not guilty of “aggravated operating under the influence-accomplice liability.” The court told the jury that it would "wait for [its] further deliberations and [its] verdict in written form on Count II."
The jury retired for just under nine minutes. The jury stated on the verdict form, which was read in open court, that it found Hurd not guilty of aggravated operating under the influence, but that it found Hurd guilty of "aggravated operating under the influence-accomplice liability." The jury was again discharged. The court entered a judgment of conviction on the count of aggravated OUI.
Hurd thereafter moved for entry of the jury's original verdict of not guilty on the count of aggravated OUI, claiming that the jury should not have been allowed to impeach its verdict after it was discharged. The Supreme Court of Maine agreed, finding that Maine Rule of Evidence 606(b) precludes jurors from impeaching their verdicts after they have been discharged and that what transpired at trial violated this Rule.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Jabar disagreed, finding that the jury had not been "discharged" at the time the jury found Hurd guilty. According to Justice Jabar, a
discharge has not occurred where the jury (1) continues to function as an undispersed unit; (2) is not subject to any outside pressures, communications, or influences; and (3) remains under the control of the court.
And, according to Justice Jabar, "[a]lthough the authority is not uniform, this approach has significant support in other jurisdictions."