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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Return To Sender?: Court Of Appeals Of Arkansas Precludes Jury Impeachment Regarding Pre-Existing Knowledge

Like its federal counterpartArkansas Rule of Evidence 606(b) 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 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. 

But, as the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Arkansas in Blake v. Shellstorm, 2012 WL 11254 (Ark.App. 2012), makes clear, the exception for "extraneous prejudicial information" covers information acquired after the start of trial, not pre-existing knowledge.

In Shellstorm, Scott Blake, a postal employee, was involved in an automobile accident with Jonathan Shellstorm and brought an action against Shellstorm and others seeking damages for his injuries.

Prior to trial, Blake filed a motion in limine seeking to prevent any mention of his medical-insurance coverage, and it is undisputed that insurance was not mentioned at trial. It is also undisputed that Blake did not request or proffer a collateral-source instruction to be given to the jury. The case was submitted to the jury with interrogatories on the issue of negligence, but a general-verdict form with regard to damages. The jury returned a judgment on liability in favor of appellee Whitten but against appellee Shellstrom, and awarded Blake damages in the amount of $10,400.

After trial,

Blake obtained affidavits from two of the jurors stating that two other jurors, who were unnamed, said during jury deliberations that they had been federal employees and "knew as a matter of fact" that Blake would have health insurance through his employment with the U.S. Postal Service. The affidavits also stated that, during deliberations, one of the affiants asked to send a note to the judge asking if the jury could consider insurance, but the jury "all agreed" that the note did not need to be delivered to the court. One of the affiants further stated that the verdict would have been much larger if the jury had not believed that Blake had insurance

Blake thereafter moved for a new trial, claiming that the jurors' communicated knowledge constituted extraneous prejudicial information, meaning that jurors could impeach the verdict pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Evidence 606(b). The Court of Appeals of Arkansas disagreed, finding that

The issue of extraneous prejudicial information has arisen most often when jurors have visited an accident scene during trial and reported their observations to other jury members. This case, however, does not involve a juror traveling outside the courthouse to gather extrinsic information. Rather, Blake argues that the jury was exposed to extraneous prejudicial information in the form of two unnamed jurors' statements, allegedly made during jury deliberations, that they had been federal employees and knew Blake would have health insurance through his job at the U.S. Postal Service. We disagree. This court has previously held that knowledge obtained by a juror and brought into the jury room from the ordinary scope of her life experiences, including knowledge obtained through her profession or vocation, does not qualify as "extraneous prejudicial information" as contemplated by Rule 606. In fact, the jury in this case was given the following instruction: "In considering the evidence in this case you are not required to set aside your common knowledge, but you have a right to consider all of the evidence in light of your own observations and experiences in the affairs of life." Because the statements alleged by Blake's affiants clearly fit into this category, Rule 606 prohibited the circuit court from considering Blake's affidavits, and there was no evidence of juror misconduct upon which to grant a new trial.

-CM

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Comments

Every court in the land expects that jurors will bring personal knowledge and life experience to any trial they view, this is something that not many people can easily separate from themselves. What can taint a juror’s objectivity about a case is prejudicial statements made during a trial by participants other than jurors. Most jury boxes are positioned so that they can hear and view everything that goes on during the trial.

What if a juror overheard a comment made by the defendant to his attorney, an observation from the gallery, or a comment by the bailiff? Would this count as a ground for appeal? If it could be proven to have changed a juror’s opinion, and that it might not have been changed if they had not heard it, possibly. Appeals Process

Posted by: Juanita | Feb 2, 2012 7:31:45 AM

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