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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Taxing Time: Middle District Of Florida Precludes Jury Impeachment In Wesley Snipes Tax Case

After actor Wesley Snipes was convicted of three counts of misdemeanor offenses involving willful failure to file his income tax returns and sentenced to consecutive terms aggregating three years imprisonment, he, inter alia, moved for permission to interview jurors and for a new trial. Part of the basis for this motion was, inter alia, an e-mail that defense counsel received the evening after the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit rejected Snipes' appeal of his conviction. This e-mail, which came from one of the jurors who heard Snipes' case stated,

I served on the jury in Ocala that found him guilty on 3 counts of failing to file taxes. It was a deal that had to be made because of certain jurors that had already presumed he was guilty before the trail [sic] started and we only found this out in the last few days of deliberation. We thought we were making the right deal because we did not think he would go to jail for not filing taxes. There were 3 on the jury that felt this way and told us he was guilty before they even heard the first piece of evidence going against what the judge had said. If I can be of any help feel free to call me at

In rejecting Snipes' motion, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida found in United States v. Snipes, 2010 WL 4674368 (M.D.Fla. 2010), that "further pursuit of the issue is clearly foreclosed by Federal 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 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. But a juror may testify about (1) whether extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jury's attention, (2) whether any outside influence was improperly brought to bear upon any juror, or (3) whether there was a mistake in entering the verdict onto the verdict form. A juror's affidavit or evidence of any statement by the juror may not be received on a matter about which the juror would be precluded from testifying.

I disagree. 

In rejecting Snipes' motion, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida held that:

Here, a juror has alleged that other jurors expressed, during deliberations, a presumption of guilt formed before trial. If true, maintenance of that state of mind would obviously be contrary to the Court's repeated instructions and should have been disclosed during voir dire, but it does not amount to an extraneous influence. The Eleventh Circuit decision in United States v. Venske, supra, is almost squarely on point in demonstrating that the claim made here is not a species of "outside influence." There, an affidavit was offered that, among other alleged misconduct, one of the jurors "knew from the first day of trial that the [Defendants] were guilty."...The court held that this statement was "excluded by Fed.R.Evid. 606(b) because [it involves] the jury's deliberative process and the mental impressions of [the] juror...", not extrinsic influence....

It follows that the Court cannot consider the emails of the jurors-indeed, they could not be considered even if they were proffered under oath in affidavit form. And, because they cannot be considered, there is no basis for conducting any interviews of any members of the jury about their deliberations or their voir dire responses and no reason to conduct an evidentiary hearing. By the same token, there is no basis for granting a new trial on the ground of juror misconduct.

Here's where I disagree. The Supreme Court of North Dakota in State v. Hidanovic, 747 N.W.2d 463, 474 (N.D. 2008), noted that "[c]ourts have universally held that provisions similar to N.D.R.Ev. 606(b)...do not preclude evidence to show a juror lied during voir dire." Now, I'm not sure whether the court was quite correct that courts categorically had reached this conclusion, and at least one court since Hidanovic has reached the opposite conclusion (see here). That said, I have done extensive research into the subject and found that the court in Hidanovic was basically correct: Almost all courts addressing the issue have held that jurors can testify about statements made during jury deliberations, not to impeach the validity of verdicts, but to prove that jurors lied during voir dire (which can lead to verdicts being overturned).

And here's where the Snipes case differs from cases like the Venske case cited by the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. In Snipes, Snipes' argument was that jurors lied during voir dire when they said that they could fairly determine his guilt or innocence. In Venske, the argument was that jurors decided that the defendants were guilty after the first day of trial, not before they were selected. Thus, the argument was not that they lied during voir dire. Thus, I think that Snipes has good frounds for an appeal. We'll see if the Eleventh Circuit agrees.

-CM 

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2010/12/after-actor-wesley-snipeswas-convicted-of-three-counts-of-misdemeanor-offenses-involving-willful-failure-to-file-his-income-t.html

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