Thursday, July 19, 2012
Who Are You?: Court Of Criminal Appeals Of Tennessee Find's Juror's Knowledge Of Defendant Doesn't Require New Trial
A defendant, who had previously been convicted of a felony drug offense, is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. During voir dire a prospective juror states that he did not know the defendant and is selected from the venire. After the defendant is convicted, the defendant moves for a new trial and calls the juror, who testifies that he in fact knew that the defendant "had spent a good deal of time in the penitentiary" but didn't recognize the defendant until after he was selected as a juror. Should the court find that the defendant is entitled to a new trial.
The defendant, who had previously been convicted of a felony drug offense, was convicted as a felon in possession of a firearm after a jury trial and sentenced to six years in prison. According to the Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee in State v. Taylor, 2012 WL 2308088 (Tenn.Crim.App. 2012), the answer is "no."
The facts in Taylor were as stated above, with the juror being able to testify pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Evidence because his knowledge of the defendant's history constituted extraneous prejudicial information. The question thus became whether this knowledge deprived the defendant of his Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury.
In addressing this issue, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee noted that in State v. Akins, 867 S.W.2d 350, 354 (Tenn.Crim.App.1993), it had found "that when a juror's voir dire responses are false or misleading, intent is not dispositive of the issue, and a mistaken answer also raises the presumption of bias." This presumption, however, can be overcome, and the court found that it was in Taylor.
The problem for the defendant in Taylor was that he "stipulated...a prior conviction for a felony drug offense...." Therefore, the juror's "knowledge of the defendant's criminal history...differed only slightly from the proof presented at trial," meaning that, according to the court, the defendant was not deprived of his right to an impartial jury.