Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Cert Grants: Juror Misconduct

Continuing with the series on cases pending before SCOTUS this term, the question is whether a juror can testify about another juror's misconduct in deliberations that revealed dishonesty during voir dire. 

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is where this case begins. A truck clipped Petitioner as he rode his motorcycle, resulting in amputation of his leg. He sued. During voir dire, one juror (who later became the foreperson) failed to reveal that her daughter had been at fault in a fatal vehicle accident. She had several opportunities to disclose this; other potential jurors related similar incidents and were excused.

Not until deliberations did this juror relay her experience and that, had they been sued, it would have "ruined her life." The jury returned a verdict in favor of the respondent. Shortly after, another juror contacted plaintiff counsel and revealed what had happened. After getting an affidavit, the motorcyclist's attorney moved for a new trial based on juror dishonesty during voir dire. That was denied.

Here is the issue: FRE 606(b) will not allow "inquiry into the validity of the verdict" coming from jury deliberations. Those are sacrosanct. But a party is entitled to a new trial where a juror failed to honestly answer a material question during voir dire, and an honest answer would have provided a valid for-cause challenge. In this instance, though, the evidence of juror dishonesty in voir dire came to light only during jury deliberations. Thus, the question, 
Whether Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) permits a
party moving for a new trial based on juror dishonesty
during voir dire to introduce juror testimony about
statements made during deliberations that tend to show
the alleged dishonesty. 
Rule 606(b) does have an exception for an outside influence that was improperly brought to bear on a juror. The foreperson's confession not only revealed that she was dishonest during voir dire, but may have improperly influenced the jury. Both the district court and the appellate court disallowed the affidavit based on FRE 606(b).

The case is Warger v. Shauers. Argument is slated for October 8. 

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