EvidenceProf Blog

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

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Travel Plans: Eleventh Circuit Precludes Jury Impeachment Regarding Foreman With Flight On 4th Day Of Delierations Pressuring Jury To Hurry

Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) 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. But a juror may testify about (1) whether extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jury's attention, (2) whether any outside influence was improperly brought to bear upon any juror, or (3) whether there was a mistake in entering the verdict onto the verdict form. A juror's affidavit or evidence of any statement by the juror may not be received on a matter about which the juror would be precluded from testifying.

So, let's say that a defendant is charged with money laundering and several drug crimes. Based upon the number of charges and the amount of evidence, the trial is fairly long: twenty days. These twenty days of trial are then followed by four days of deliberations, with the jury eventually finding the defendant guilty of all charges. After trial, however, an alternate juror contacts defense counsel and informs him that the jury foreman booked a flight to Las Vegas on what turned out to be the fourth day of deliberations and pressured the jury to hurry its deliberations. Should the defendant get a new trial, or should the court at least investigate these allegations of juror misconduct? According to the recent opinion of the Eleventh Circuit in United States v. Valencia-Trujillo, 2010 WL 2163105 (11th Cir. 2010), the answer is "no."

In Valencia-Trujillo, the defendant, Joaquin Mario Valencia-Trujillo, actually raised two arguments on appeal. His first argument, based upon the Supreme Court's opinion in McDonough Power Equip., Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548 (1984), was that the jury foreman failed to answer honestly a material question on voir dire and that a correct response would have provided a valid basis for a challenge for cause. And indeed, if the foreman lied about his travel plans during voir dire, Valencia-Trujillo likely would have received a new trial. But, according to the Eleventh Circuit,

Valencia-Trujillo...failed to demonstrate that the jury foreman dishonestly answered a material question in the initial juror questionnaire or during voir dire. Not only was the juror never asked a specific question about his travel plans, but Valencia-Trujillo concedes that "it is not known when the future foreman booked his travel to Las Vegas." Without evidence of when the juror made his travel plans, Valencia-Trujillo is unable to establish that the juror knowingly made any dishonest statement. He cannot satisfy the first prong of McDonough.

Valencia-Trujillo's second argument was that he was entitled to a new trial based upon jury misconduct by the jury foreman. The Eleventh Circuit, however, found that his problem in this regard was two-fold. First, he was not relying upon an allegations of a juror privy to deliberations; instead, he was relying upon speculation by an alternate juror who was not privy to jury deliberations. According to the court, though, even if a juror had come forth with allegations that the foreman pressured the jury to hurry its deliberations so that he could make his flight, it still would not have ordered a new trial or investigated these allegations because

To the extent that the jury foreman did pressure the jury to hurry its deliberations, that would constitute internal, instead of external, influence on the jury....Any evidence supporting Valencia-Trujillo's allegation would not be competent evidence with which he could impeach the jury's verdict. See...Fed.R.Evid. 606(b). A district court does not abuse its discretion when it decides not to investigate allegations of juror misconduct that are "entirely endemic to the deliberations."...Because Valencia-Trujillo has not made any showing that the jury was subjected to extrinsic influence, the district court did not abuse its discretion by deciding not to conduct an evidentiary hearing.



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