EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Monday, August 13, 2012

What's In Your Wallet?: Court Of Appeals Of Iowa Finds Notes In Wallet Not Extraneous Prejudicial Information

A defendant is charged with homicide by vehicle, eluding, and operating a motor vehicle without the owner's consent. At trial, the prosecution offers into evidence "a black wallet with miscellaneous papers in it." It turns out that, unbeknownst to anyone, those papers are damaging to the defendant's case. Indeed, jurors come forward after trial and claim that they used the papers during deliberations. Do those papers constitute "extraneous prejudicial information" and thus a proper predicate for jury impeachment? According to the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Iowa in Pinegar v. State, 2012 WL 3026393 (Iowa App. 2012), the answer is "no."

In Pinegar

On January 19, 2004, Polk County Deputy Sheriff Cass Bollman attempted to stop a vehicle driven by [William] Pinegar for speeding. According to Bollman's version, he initially activated his lights and later his siren in an effort to stop Pinegar's vehicle. Bollman testified he pursued Pinegar after Pinegar failed to stop and in the course of the pursuit Pinegar ran stop signs, red lights, and drove at speeds in excess of the posted speed limits. Pinegar's vehicle eventually collided with another vehicle, drove through a fence, struck a tree, and came to rest on its passenger side. Melissa Sayles, a passenger in Pinegar's vehicle, was ejected from the vehicle and died of resulting head injuries. Police officers found a semi-automatic pistol near her body. Troy McDaniels, another passenger in Pinegar's vehicle, was also injured.

Pinegar told investigators he used methamphetamine and marijuana earlier that day....Pinegar and McDaniels told investigators that Sayles had also used methamphetamine that day. They also told investigators that Sayles told Pinegar not to stop because the vehicle was stolen and threatened Pinegar with a pistol if he refused to comply. Although McDaniels initially told investigators he did not see the pistol or hear any shots fired, he testified Sayles fired the pistol out of the window in the course of the pursuit. Bollman testified he did not see or hear any gunshots from Pinegar's vehicle during the pursuit.

At trial, the prosecution introduced Sayles' wallet as Exhibit 37, which its witness described as "a black wallet with miscellaneous papers in it. I believe a woman's style wallet." Unbeknownst to either side, the wallet in fact

contained two notes apparently written by Sayles to "Billy." Testimony at trial revealed Pinegar and Sayles had an on-again-off-again romantic relationship. Pinegar's trial counsel obtained affidavits from two jurors indicating the jurors had discovered the notes, discussed them during deliberations, and at least one juror commented that Sayles would not have held a gun to the head of someone she loved.

After he was convicted, Pinegar filed an application for postconviction relief and sought to introduce the affidavits under Iowa Rule of Evidence 5.606(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, 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 for these purposes.

The Court of Appeals of Iowa found, however, that the notes were not "extraneous prejudicial information," concluding that

Although the "miscellaneous papers" were not specifically identified, they were part of State's Exhibit 37. The term "extraneous" in rule 5.606(b) refers to information not in the record and not presented as evidence in court....Examples might be a newspaper a juror brought into the jury room, exhibits not admitted at trial, or a juror's personal familiarity with a location

I'm not sure that I can agree with the court. Sure, the prosecution mentioned that the wallet had some miscellaneous papers. But the notes were never authenticated. They were never shown to satisfy the rule against hearsay. They were never shown to be relevant. Apparently, nobody knew what they said. Given this, I think that the notes clearly constituted "extraneous prejudicial information."



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I take it that the wallet was subject to inspection by the defendant and his attorney before being admitted into evidence. If so, by failing to object, he waived the authentication and hearsay issues. Perhaps Pinegar has a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, but once the wallet and papers were admitted into evidence it was not extraneous information.

Posted by: Jim | Aug 13, 2012 3:06:32 PM

Pinegar did also claim that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel, but the court rejected that argument as well. Judge Potterfield, however, dissented, noting, inter alia, that

In finding no prejudice occurred, the district court and the majority assume that the notes were written by Sayles to Pinegar and would have been admissible if offered to reflect Sayles's state of mind when the notes were written. But the notes are not dated nor signed nor addressed other than to “Billy,” and Pinegar claimed to have no knowledge of them.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Aug 13, 2012 4:11:22 PM

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