RHODE ISLAND CRIMINAL DEFENSE A Practice Manual – JUROR CONDUCT

RI Criminal Defense Practice Manual CoverRHODE ISLAND CRIMINAL DEFENSE
A Practice Manual, 4th Edition
© John E. MacDonald

JUROR CONDUCT

 

Juror Statements

State v. Carmody, 471 A.2d 1363 (R.I. 1984). During voir dire, a prospective juror said he thought defendant was guilty. The trial judge failed to immediately give an adequate cautionary instruction. See R.I. R. EVID. 606(b).

Trial justice must immediately caution the jury that they are to disregard the juror’s comments.

State v. Pusyka, 592 A.2d 850 (R.I. 1991). During an arson trial, a newspaper article came to a juror’s attention and he asked to be excused. Trial judge replaced the juror and immediately voir dired the panel. R.I.S.C. affirmed.

The article was an objective account of the trial and unlikely to cause prejudice.
Trial judge’s timely action also prevented any prejudice to defendant.
State v. Drowne, 602 A.2d 540 (R.I. 1992). A juror polled after verdict was equivocal as to defendant’s guilt as to one count. Trial court voir dired the juror and accepted her guilty vote. R.I.S.C. affirmed.

Rule 606(b) requires finality of judgment.
When vote is equivocal, judge must determine whether juror’s response is so far removed from the verdict as to make the verdict defective, or whether the defect could be cured by further interrogation or deliberations.
Trial court may not inquire as to the juror’s deliberative process except as to extraneous information. See Hartley, below.
State v. Martinez, 652 A.2d 958 (R.I. 1995). Juror’s comments during voir dire about seeing defendant at the A.C.I. did not require a mistrial.

The statement was made before selection was complete.
Defense counsel did not request a cautionary instruction.
Evidence of defendant’s guilt was overwhelming.
State v. Nelson, 982 A.2d 602 (R.I. 2009). During voir dire at trial for DUI resulting in serious bodily injury, a prospective juror commented in open court that she could not be impartial because she “had three students killed by drunk drivers.” The juror was immediately excused and defense counsel moved for a mistrial. The trial justice denied the motion, largely because the comment did not specifically refer to the defendant, but cautioned the jurors to disregard the comments and continue to presume defendant’s innocence. R.I.S.C. affirmed.

Juror Conduct

State v. Hartley, 656 A.2d 954 (R.I. 1995). During deliberations in a robbery case, several jurors had tainted deliberations with extraneous information learned outside the scope of the trial. R.I.S.C. ordered a hearing to determine what extraneous information reached the jury and whether defendant was prejudiced. A new trial was eventually ordered.

Trial court may not inquire as to the effect the information had on the deliberative process.

Trial judge must consider if the extraneous information would probably influence the decision of an average reasonable juror.
State v. Rodriguez, 694 A.2d 1202 (R.I. 1997). In a robbery case, a juror visited the store in question during the trial to see the position of the video cameras. The trial judge ordered a new trial but R.I.S.C. reversed.

Extraneous information received probably would not have influenced the decision of an average reasonable juror because other jurors could determine the position of the cameras from evidence adduced at trial.
State v. DaSilva, 742 A.2d 721 (R.I. 1999). During deliberations in a child molestation trial, a juror learned that her own granddaughter had recently been molested and candidly disclosed this to the judge. The juror assured judge and counsel that she could remain fair and impartial, and she was permitted to continue deliberations. The judge denied defense counsel’s subsequent requests for mistrial or to examine the juror further. R.I.S.C. vacated and remanded.

“It is well settled that when questions concerning a juror’s fitness are raised, the trial justice must conduct sufficient inquiry to make a reasoned determination whether the juror should be discharged or may continue to serve. The Sixth Amendment requires “diligent scrutiny’ to protect the defendant’s right to a trial by a fair and impartial jury.” Id. at 725.
“The juror said enough to raise an immediate concern necessitating further inquiry, and the unfortunate failure to do so by the trial justice resulted in a violation of the defendant’s right to an impartial jury determination of his guilt.. Without further inquiry, the trial justice was not sufficiently informed of the issue to adequately exercise his discretion.” Moreover, a cautionary instruction to the jury cannot serve as a substitute to voir dire of the individual juror. Id. at 725-26.
State v. Briggs. 886 A.2d 735 (R.I. 2005). Over defendant’s objection, the trial justice dismissed a juror mid-trial that had discussed the case with his wife, who herself had been attending the trial and spoken with one of the state’s witnesses. R.I.S.C. affirmed, holding that the trial justice did not abuse her discretion or violate defendant’s trial rights.

State v. Quinlan, 921 A.2d 96 (R.I. 2007). Trial judge did not abuse his discretion by refusing to grant a mistrial and failing to admonish the jury based on juror misconduct. During the trial, one juror spoke to others about the case, visited the crime scene, and read a news report about the murder case. While the juror did speak about the case in general terms, he did not discuss defendant’s guilt or innocence, and the record disclosed that the other jurors ignored him. The juror was dismissed and the judge issued a cautionary instruction to the remaining jurors. R.I.S.C. affirmed.

Defense counsel’s acceptance of the judge’s cautionary instruction also constituted waiver of the objection as an appealable issue.

Juror Questions

State v. Gomes, 590 A.2d 391 (R.I. 1991). Manslaughter case involving a couple that stabbed each other. Jury came back with a question asking if defendant was guilty of manslaughter if the killing was accidental. Judge merely repeated his definition of manslaughter, which never addressed the jury question as to accident. R.I.S.C. reversed.

Repeating the original instruction is fine if it is apparent that the jury overlooked some portion of the instruction or if repeating the instruction could clear up the jurors’ confusion.
Here the jury did not overlook anything. The judge’s original instruction did not clarify their question regarding an accidental killing. The judge should have explained this clearly.
State v. Dame, 488 A.2d 418 (R.I. 1985). Arson case where the jury had a question about the fire chief’s answer as to when the fire started. The trial judge answered this question from her notes instead of reading back portions of the chief’s testimony. R.I.S.C. reversed.

A request from the jury to read back testimony should probably be honored.
If the judge attempts to summarize evidence, the summary must be complete and impartial.
Summary must be completely accurate and must not invade the fact-finding province of the jury.
Judge may not summarize only direct examination testimony if cross-examination is also pertinent to the subject of the request.

Juror Bias

State v. Valcourt, 792 A.2d 732 (R.I. 2002). Two jurors in a child molestation case overheard a conversation in which defendant was talking about DCYF and child support. The jurors informed the trial judge and one was dismissed while the other was retained, over defendant’s objections, because she insisted that the conversation would not influence her ability to remain fair and impartial. R.I.S.C. affirmed.

“It is well-settled in this jurisdiction that the issue of whether a juror is disqualified due to bias, prejudice or interest is left to the discretion of the trial justice.” Id. at 735 (quoting State v. Berberian, 374 A.2d 778, 781 (R.I. 1977)).
The trial judge conducted an in camera hearing and extensive inquiry before determining that the comments were not so prejudicial as to arouse the passions of the jury.
State v. Oliveira, 774 A.2d 893, 915 (R.I. 2001). During trial and in the presence of the other jurors, a juror said “they should just hang them all.” The trial judge dismissed the juror. Defendant argued that the comment was sufficiently prejudicial that the judge should have granted a mistrial, or alternatively voir dired the remaining jurors. R.I.S.C. affirmed and noted that defense counsel failed to request either of these remedies during trial.

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