EvidenceProf Blog

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

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Home For The Holidays: California Court Refuses New Trial Despite Juror Wanting To Be Home For Thanksgiving

A defendant is convicted of attempted murder. After he is convicted, the defendant moves for a new trial based upon an investigator's declaration.

In that declaration, the investigator stated that Juror No. 5 responded to a letter that he left on her door. When the investigator spoke to Juror No. 5, she told him that she believed at the time of trial that [the defendant] was not guilty. Juror No. 5 also stated that she and other jurors believed that the perpetrators were Black. According to Juror No. 5, jurors discussed the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, wanting to go home for vacation, and that the trial was taking longer than expected. Lastly, Juror No. 5 informed the investigator that she thought [the defendant] had the right to appeal even if she voted guilty and thus she could be home for Thanksgiving. People v. Toluao, 2012 WL 4497809 (Cal.App. 4 Dist. 2012).

Is the defendant entitled to a new trial?

According to the recent opinion of the Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Division 1, California, in Toluao, the answer is "no." In Toluao, the facts were as stated above, with Situe Tuluao being the defendant. In rejecting the defendant's motion for a new trial, the court concluded that

Even assuming the truth of the defense investigator's assertions, Juror No. 5's statements reflected the jurors' thought processes and were not of such a character as to have influenced the verdict improperly. While jurors may have discussed the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and their desire to be home, there was no evidence that they rendered guilty verdicts because of those considerations. Further, Juror No. 5's statements that some jurors believed that the perpetrators were Black, that she believed Toluao was not guilty, and that she believed Toluao had a right to appeal if she voted guilty went to the mental processes of the jurors

Moreover, the court found that

after the jury returned its guilty verdicts, each juror, including Juror No. 5, answered "yes" when polled as to whether the verdict was their individual verdict.

There was no evidence of any hesitation or equivocation from the jurors.  Under the circumstances, the defense investigator's declaration did not constitute a good cause showing of juror misconduct justifying a subsequent hearing under Code of Civil Procedure section 237, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying that hearing.

-CM

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