EvidenceProf Blog

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

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Under Pressure: California Court Delays Sentencing Based Upon Allegations Of Juror Misconduct

According to an article in appealdemocrat.com, a report of possible juror misconduct stalled the sentencing of a man convicted of a series of robberies in California.  That man, Haurilio Silva-Valencia, was convicted of three felony counts of second-degree burglary, two felony counts of second-degree robbery and one felony count of attempted second-degree robbery.  But, 10 days ago, his attorney, Jesse Ortiz, allegedly received a phone call from the neighbor of a juror, who alleged that the juror told her that another female juror and she felt that Valenica was not guilty but were forced to change their positions.

Ortiz claimed that the call could form the basis for a new trial, but Colusa County District Attorney John Poyner correctly countered that the phone call constituted inadmissible hearsay.  Ortiz ostensibly agreed, but asked for a week so that he could try to get the juror herself to testify or provide a statement.  And Judge S. William Abel responded, "I don't understand a lot of things about your request...but you have a week."

If Judge Abel had understood Ortiz's request, he likely would have denied it.  That's because California Code of Evidence Section 1150(a) states that:

     "Upon an inquiry as to the validity of a verdict, any otherwise admissible evidence may be received as to statements made, or conduct, conditions, or events occurring, either within or without the jury room, of such a character as is likely to have influenced the verdict improperly.  No evidence is admissible to show the effect of such statement, conduct, condition, or event upon a juror either
in influencing him to assent to or dissent from the verdict or concerning the mental processes by which it was determined."

So, what's the problem?  Well, the two jurors who were allegedly pressured to change their positions could only prove that they succumbed to such pressure by testifying about the effect of the other jurors' conduct on their mental processes.  And California courts have consistently proscribed this type of jury impeachment.  See, e.g., People v. Taplin, 2003 WL 1958878 (Cal.App. 2 Dist. 2003) ("Appellant also contends that Juror No. 5 himself committed misconduct...in that he...based his decision not on the evidence but on the pressure of other jurors....Th[is] claim[]..., like the related assertion of improper 'intimidation,' is barred under Evidence Code 1150, because it depends upon inadmissible evidence of Juror No. 5's mental processes."); People v. Stevenson, 84 Cal.Rptr. 349, 350 (Cal.App. 1970) ("In the other affidavit a second juror alleges, 'It was my understanding that we had to come back with a unanimous verdict one way or the other. Since I was one of the few who were for acquittal, I felt that it was useless to persist in my convictions and, therefore, voted for a guilty verdict....'In the case at bench, the evidence supplied by the jurors' affidavits was inadmissible because it showed only the mental processes of the respective jurors, and the subjective considerations which influenced their verdicts.").



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