Looking Behind the Curtain

Both the federal courts and Tennessee state courts have strict rules about the types of inquiry that can be made into a jury’s verdict.    The general rules for impeaching a jury verdict are set forth in Rule 606(b) of the rules of both systems and in a relatively few number of cases.  Why so few?  First, there are very few trials and therefore very few verdicts to impeach.   Second, there are even fewer cases where the parties can afford to thoroughly investigate what goes on "behind the curtain."

United States v. Siegelman  is an extraordinary case involving a criminal charges against the then-Governor of Alabama.  He was convicted, looked behind the curtain, found evidence of juror misconduct concerning exposure to extraneous information and improper communications during the deliberation, and brought it to the attention of the court.  The court then made its own inquiry, calling the jurors to a hearing and examining them.  The court determined that some me embers of the jury saw  “(1) a copy of the Second Superseding Indictment obtained from the district court’s own website; and (2) juror information from the website concerning the foreperson’s obligation to preside over the jury’s deliberations and to give every juror a fair opportunity to express his views.”

The trial court dismissed the allegations of jury misconduct, and last week the 11th Circuit affirmed the trial judge’s decision.  Here is a summary of the opinion as contained on the extraordinary Federal Evidence Blog.  Here is a copy of the 11th Circuit opinion.

Here is the summary from the Federal Evidence Blog:

In sum, the allegations in the case of juror misconduct and exposure to extrinsic evidence were serious and grounded on claims of violating the Sixth Amendment. However, the trial court conscientiously held a hearing to determine the scope of the exposure to extrinsic evidence. Based on the facts of the case, and the limited nature of the exposure, the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The circuit agreed that the trial court was constrained to hold a post-verdict investigation inquiring into the jury deliberations. The case highlights the manner in which these types of challenges may be considered.