Sunday, April 25, 2021
Sixth Circuit Finds Jury Impeachment is Proper When a Juror Looked Up the Defendant's Criminal Record
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. A juror may testify on the question whether extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jury's attention or whether any outside influence was improperly brought to bear on any juror, only after some outside evidence of that act or event has been presented. However a juror may testify without the presentation of any outside evidence concerning any threat, any bribe, any attempted threat or bribe, or any improprieties of any officer of the court. A juror’s affidavit or evidence of any statement by the juror concerning a matter about which the juror would be precluded from testifying will not be received for these purposes.
So, can jurors impeach their verdict based upon a juror looking up the defendant's criminal record? That was the question addressed by the Sith Circuit in its recent opinion in Nian v. Warden, North Central Correctional Institution, 2021 WL 1526509 (6th Cir. 2021).
In Nian, Abulay Nian was "charged with one count of rape by digital penetration and one count of rape by cunnilingus." After he was convicted, he appealed, claiming
that a juror had improperly introduced extraneous information-including his criminal record and national origin-into deliberations, and he requested an evidentiary hearing. Attached to his motion was an affidavit from Jacquelyn Cox, a juror on his case, who stated that another juror had introduced into deliberations facts about Nian being from Sierra Leone and having a prior criminal record, which she felt influenced the verdict.
After Nian lost his appeals in state court, he brought a petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal court. The Sixth Circuit agreed with him, concluding that his criminal record was extraneous prejudicial information* and that
The case came down to a credibility determination. The state trial court's constitutional error is thus, in part, due to a juror's alleged introduction of Nian's criminal record into deliberations, and the Supreme Court has explained that “prior trouble with the law...is said to weigh too much with the jury and to so overpersuade them as to prejudge one with a bad general record and deny him a fair opportunity to defend against a particular charge.”...Further, we have noted that a juror introducing extraneous information into deliberations “can rarely be viewed as harmless.”...This is not the rare case where the introduction of extraneous information was harmless....Rather, there is a reasonable probability that if a juror discussed Nian's criminal record during deliberations, that constitutional violation “affected or influenced the verdict.”...Accordingly, we find that the state court's constitutional error was not harmless.
*The court held that "[b]ecause we determine that Nian is entitled to habeas relief based on the state trial court's exclusion of Cox's testimony with respect to the introduction of Nian's criminal record into the jury's deliberations, we need not determine whether the information introduced regarding Nian's national origin would—in itself—also entitle Nian to that same relief."