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United States v. John

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 4, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
WILLARD JOHN, Defendant.

JAMES A. TEILBORG, Senior District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Lift Prohibition on Contact with Jurors (Doc. 224) and Defendant's Motion to Extend Time to File Motion for New Trial. (Doc. 221). The Court now rules on these motions.

I. BACKGROUND

Defendant Willard John ("Defendant") was charged with first-degree murder and the lesser included charge of second-degree murder on April 11, 2012. (Doc. 12). After his trial, on July 11, 2014, the jury returned a guilty verdict on the lesser included charge of second-degree murder. (Doc. 220). Later, on that same day, the jury foreperson sent an email to the prosecutor assigned to Defendant's case stating that two of the jurors were "hold-outs" and that several of the other jurors thought the jury foreperson was "threatening" the two hold-outs. (Doc. 224, Ex. 1). The email also stated that because the jury could not reach a unanimous decision regarding first-degree murder, they "fell-back on 2nd Degree [sic]." ( Id. ). Furthermore, the jury foreperson asserts in his email that after the first day of testimony one juror stated that she "would be the one to hold out against anything the jury tried to do." ( Id. ). Pursuant to Local Rule of Criminal Procedure 24.2, the parties were banned from initiating contact with the jurors after the trial. LRCrim 24.2.

Because of the information contained in the jury foreperson's email, Defendant filed the motion requesting the Court to allow the parties to contact the jurors so that an independent investigator can interview each juror. (Doc. 224). On July 16, 2014, Defendant filed a Motion to Extend Time to File Motion for New Trial. (Doc. 221). On July 18, 2014, the Government filed a Response Opposing Defendant's Motion to Lift Prohibition on Contact with Jurors. (Doc. 227).

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Under Local Rule of Criminal Procedure 24.2, parties to a case are banned from initiating contact with jurors after the trial unless the parties can show good cause and the court grants permission. LRCrim 24.2. The Ninth Circuit disfavors post-verdict interrogation of jurors and has consistently disallowed such interrogation for the purpose of discovering potential, but unspecified, jury misconduct. See Tanner v. United States, 483 U.S. 107, 121 (1987); Smith v. Cupp, 457 F.2d 1098, 1100 (9th Cir. 1972); N. Pac. Ry. Co. v. Mely, 219 F.2d 199, 202 (9th Cir. 1954).

Courts facing post-verdict allegations of jury misconduct rely on Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) ("Rule 606(b)") to determine whether the parties should be allowed to interrogate the jury. See LRCrim 24.2; United States v. Logan, 250 F.3d 350, 379-80 (6th Cir. 2001). Rule 606(b) states that:

During an inquiry into the validity of a verdict or indictment, a juror may not testify about any statement made or incident that occurred during the jury's deliberations; the effect of anything on that juror's or another juror's vote; or any juror's mental processes concerning the verdict or indictment."[1]

Fed. R. Evid. 606(b).

Jurors cannot be "questioned about the deliberative process or subjective effects of extraneous information, nor can such information be considered by the trial or appellate courts." United States v. Bagnariol, 665 F.2d 877, 884-85 (9th Cir. 1981); see United States v. Marques, 600 F.2d 742, 747 (9th Cir. 1979). Rule 606(b)'s prohibition on post-verdict inquiry into the jury's internal deliberations applies regardless of whether a juror volunteers such information. See Smith, 457 F.2d at 1100; Domeracki v. Humble Oil and Refining Co., 443 F.2d 1245, 1247 (3d Cir. 1971). However, jurors may testify on matters concerning extraneous prejudicial information or improper outside influences. Fed.R.Evid. 606(b)(2); see Tanner, 483 U.S. at 121; Smith, 457 F.2d at 1100.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Prohibition on Contact with Jurors

In his Motion to Lift Prohibition on Contact with Jurors (Doc. 224), Defendant asserts that the information contained in the jury foreperson's email is sufficient to lift the ban on post-verdict interrogation of the jury. Accordingly, Defendant argues that he should be allowed to hire an independent investigator to interview each juror to uncover possible jury misconduct. ( Id. ). The information contained in the jury foreperson's email concerns only the jury's internal deliberations, not extraneous prejudicial information or improper outside influences. Moreover, even if assumed true, the information contained in the email does not rise to jury misconduct ...


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