Because juror misconduct can result in members becoming unable to be impartial when considering the facts of a case, it is important to recognize the signs of a tainted jury. If juror misconduct is proven, a verdict can be appealed or overturned.
Juror Bias and Misconduct
According to federal and state laws, any defendant accused of a crime is entitled to a fair jury trial by 12 impartial, unbiased jurors. An impartial juror is someone who is willing and capable of deciding a case based solely on the evidence presented at trial. A biased juror is someone who is unable to perform his/her duty to render a fair verdict and is subject to dismissal from the jury. Actual Bias is defined as an existing state of mind on the part of a juror which will prevent him/her from acting without prejudice. Implied Bias is unconscious and unintentional. It also disqualifies a person from serving as a juror. Since the law states that every defendant charged with a crime is entitled to a jury by 12 unbiased jurors, a conviction cannot stand, even if only one juror is biased or improperly influenced by juror misconduct.
Common Types Of Juror Misconduct
Juror misconduct can show up in a variety of ways, but they all indicate that a juror is biased or can potentially create bias among other jurors, so the defendant does not get a fair trial.
- Concealing Information – A juror who conceals material information and relevant facts or gives false answers to questions during the jury selection process is committing juror misconduct.
- Obtaining Information from Outside Sources – A jury’s verdict must be based upon the evidence developed at the trial. Receiving information from outside sources that are not part of the trial evidence is considered juror misconduct.
- Refusing to Deliberate – A refusal to deliberate suggests a juror’s unwillingness to engage in the deliberative process and participate in discussions with fellow jurors or listen to their views and express his/her own views about the case. Refusal to deliberate is considered a type of juror misconduct.
- Contact with Outside Parties – In a criminal case, any contact or communication with outside parties is prohibited. Juror tampering directly or indirectly during a trial is considered juror misconduct. Jurors are not allowed to communicate with any outside parties associated with the case.
In many criminal cases, jurors are sequestered in a private environment with other jurors during the duration of the trial. This is to prevent the potential for juror misconduct, especially by talking to third parties or gathering information from outside sources. The Internet has become a major contributor to juror misconduct. The Internet and different social media sources have frequently been used by jury members to access information about aspects of a trial or find out information about people connected to the trial. There have been numerous instances where cases had to be retried due to jury bias caused by information found on the Internet.
Recognizing Signs of Juror Misconduct
In most cases, the verdict does not indicate juror misconduct. In cases where the jury got something wrong on the verdict, the judge may attempt to fix the mistake instead of ordering a new trial. The judge may send the jury back to the jury room to deliberate further, so the jurors can fix their mistakes and adjust damages accordingly. However, if the mistake is the result of a fundamental misunderstanding of the case by the jury, the judge will likely order a new trial.
If juror misconduct is suspected, suspicions must be supported by evidence. In previous years, the “Mansfield Rule” was followed in most U.S. jurisdictions. It prohibited jury testimony from jurors suspected of jury misconduct about what happened during jury deliberations. Today, that rule has been softened, and it now allows jury testimony in certain situations and on certain topics.
In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the conviction of a Colorado defendant due to a juror’s racial comments during deliberations. The defendant, a Hispanic man, was charged with sexual battery of two teenage sisters. During the jury selection process, all jurors were asked if they could deliver a fair, impartial verdict and all jurors answered yes. During trial deliberations, two jurors accused another juror of anti-Hispanic bias. They told the judge that the biased juror stated that the defendant was guilty because Hispanic men have a propensity for violence towards women.
The defendant was found guilty of sexual assault, but the Supreme Court reversed the conviction due to racial bias by the juror. In most cases, the Federal Rule of Evidence prevents reversal of a verdict in a criminal trial. In this case, five out of eight Supreme Court Justices voted to reverse the conviction to make a strong statement against racial bias, and the defendant was granted a new trial.