Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Steeling the Verdict: Eastern District of North Carolina Allows Jury Impeachment Regarding Internet Research
Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) 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.
An emerging problem in the American justice system is jurors conducting internet research about a case, leading to the Google mistrial. And, when such research is not discovered until after trial, as in United States v. LaRoque, 2014 WL 683729 (E.D.N.C. 2012), it leads to jury impeachment.
In LaRoque, Stephen LaRoque was convicted of the theft of $300,000 from a federally-funded nonprofit corporation named East Carolina Development Corporation and of laundering the criminal proceeds from such crime through various financial transactions. After he was convicted, LaRoque appealed and supported his affidavit with an affidavit completed by Juror Number Three. The affidavit indicated
that Juror Number Three conducted research on the internet in contravention of the instructions of the court. The supplemental affidavit of Juror Number Three reveals that his research included information on deferred compensation rules. The supplemental affidavit also indicates this information was different from the information presented at the three-week long trial.
According to the Eastern District of North Carolina, this affidavit was admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b)(2)(A) because it revealed that Juror Number Three might have been exposed to extraneous prejudicial information. Specifically, the court found "that the extrinsic information obtained by Juror Number Three may have been material and relevant to Counts One through Ten because the term deferred compensation related to defendant's underlying total defense."