New York Federal Criminal Practice Blog
January 27, 2008

EDNY Judge Denies Motion for Juror Testimony at Post-Trial Hearing to Investigate Alleged Juror Misconduct

The image of a juror laughingly shouting "guilty, guilty, guilty" to another juror prior to the commencement of deliberations is certainly an unseemly one, likely to lead to an inquiry by the court and possibly even the dismissal of one or both of the jurors.  But not, an EDNY court ruled in United States v. Sabhnani, 2008 WL 150216 (E.D.N.Y. January 14, 2008), when the evidence of the event is presented after the verdict has been announced. 

Following the defendants' convictions in a much publicized case (previously discussed in this blog here and here), the defense moved for a new trial and a hearing to investigate alleged prejudicial juror misconduct, based on information from a press photographer that he had observed two jurors in a parking lot several weeks prior to the verdict "speaking and laughing and heard one of those jurors shout 'guilty' two or three times."  This was premature deliberation, the defense argued, violating the defendants' right to a fair trial.  In addition, the defense requested that the jurors be ordered to testify at a hearing.  This request, the defense argued, did not violate Fed.R.Evid. 606(b) - which precludes jurors from testifying as to any matter purely internal to the jurors' deliberations - because the alleged misconduct occurred prior to the deliberations.

Here, the defense faced two hurdles in persuading the judge to put the jury's process under a microscope - the fact that a verdict had already been rendered and there is a strong tradition favoring the finality of verdicts, and the fact that the alleged misconduct involved intra-jury communications, which pose "a less serious threat to a defendant's right to an impartial trial than extra-jury influences."  In the end, the court denied the motion, concluding that "[o]ne juror's potentially out-of-context, single word comment, does not demonstrate that the jurors prematurely deliberated, but more importantly, it does not demonstrate that the juror would be unreceptive to opposing arguments or that any juror failed to participate in deliberations in good faith." 

Interestingly, the court also found that Rule 606(b) would preclude the jurors'  testimony at a hearing on the matter. Although that rule expressly applies to deliberations, and at issue here were pre-deliberations statements, the court found, citing a 6th Circuit case, that this alleged misconduct constituted "a potential influence on the jury" and "Rule 606(b) prohibits post-verdict interrogation of jurors as to internal influences."

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