EvidenceProf Blog

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

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Slapsgiving: Eleventh Circuit Curtly Concludes Juror Can't be Subpoeanaed Regarding Thanksgiving & Racial Comments

I thought for sure you would be found innocent because I talked with one of the jurors about the case—the elderly black man. We were in the bathroom at the same time and he [the juror] said, 'Those white folks know that lady is innocent, but just want to find a black person guilty. We are kinda bored and tired and don't feel like arguing with them. We are trying to get home to prepare for Thanksgiving.' -Statement by defense witness DeAngelus Gibson to Shynita Townsend after he was convicted of knowingly and corruptly accepting a thing of value, as an agent of a local government and related crimes.

Was Townsend entitled to subpoena the juror to see if he would render similar testimony in support of a motion for a new trial? According to the opinion of the Eleventh Circuit in United States v. Townsend, 502 Fed.Appx. 870 (11th Cir. 2012), the answer is "no."

Townsend was a per curiam opinion, with the court citing Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b), which reads as follows:

(b) During an Inquiry into the Validity of a Verdict or Indictment.  

(1) Prohibited Testimony or Other Evidence. During an inquiry into the validity of a verdict or indictment, a juror may not testify about any statement made or incident that occurred during the jury’s deliberations; the effect of anything on that juror’s or another juror’s vote; or any juror’s mental processes concerning the verdict or indictment. The court may not receive a juror’s affidavit or evidence of a juror’s statement on these matters.  

(2) Exceptions. A juror may testify about whether:  

(A) extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jury’s attention;  

(B) an outside influence was improperly brought to bear on any juror; or  

(C) a mistake was made in entering the verdict on the verdict form.

Applying this rule, the court quickly concluded that

although she sought to subpoena the juror involved, the juror's testimony regarding internal jury deliberations or the potential “mental processes” and motivations of other jurors would have been inadmissible to impeach the verdict under Rule 606(b)(1). See... Fed.R.Evid. 606(b)(1). Moreover, no exception to the general rule prohibiting juror testimony applied to Townsend's accusations because she did not identify any evidence suggesting that the jury was exposed to extraneous prejudicial information or that an improper outside influence impacted the jury's verdict. See Fed.R.Evid. 606(b)(2). Instead, according to Townsend, the juror's statements to Gibson related to racial bias of other jurors, and the impact of fatigue and an upcoming holiday on jury deliberations.

I'm pretty shocked by the court's ruling. Now, I'm certainly not shocked that the court concluded Rule 606(b) precludes jurors from testifying about juror racial bias. Many courts have reached this conclusion. But many other courts have found that jurors can testify about juror bias based upon Constitutional considerations. As far as I can tell, Townsend is the first Eleventh Circuit case to address the issue. Given that, I'm surprised that the court merely issued a per curiam opinion that curtly concluded that such testimony was prohibited without anything in the form of protracted analysis.



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