Post-Conviction Appeals Due to Juror Misconduct
In our federal criminal justice system, a fair trial depends mainly on an impartial jury. If the jury's impartiality is compromised through inappropriate communications or other types of juror misconduct, the resulting bias may result in an unfair conviction for the defendant.
Federal criminal defendants are entitled to due process. An essential component of due process is that a defendant is given a trial before an impartial jury.
The United States Supreme Court has held that the impartiality of a jury is compromised by any private communication, directly or indirectly, with a juror during a trial about the matter pending before the jury.
Unfortunately, the proliferation of instant information and easy access to social media has made juror misconduct more common. Federal judges often admonish jurors not to use social media or the internet to research, learn, or discuss anything about the case.
This does not always stop jurors from using or accessing social media during a trial, which can be the basis for demanding a “Remmer hearing” and a possible post-conviction appeal.
Simply put, jury misconduct is defined as any conduct that conflicts with the judge's instructions on how jurors should perform their duties, such as speaking to people about the case who are not on the same jury or concealing personal beliefs that could influence impartial deliberations.
If you believe your verdict was impacted in this manner, you can file a post-conviction appeal alleging juror misconduct. If your appeal is upheld and the courts agree that juror misconduct affected your case, you must be granted a new trial.
Remmer v. United States and the "Remmer Hearing"
The landmark case of Remmer v. United States (1954) established the legal framework for determining juror misconduct.
The case arose when Carl A. Remmer, convicted of tax evasion, appealed his conviction because an outside party had attempted to influence a juror during the trial with an implied bribe.
The juror, who later became the foreman, reported the incident to the judge, and the judge conferred with prosecutors, but the defense didn't discover the breach until after the conviction. They motioned for a new trial, but the motion was denied.
The case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the justices ruled that "in a criminal case, any private communication, contact, or tampering, directly or indirectly, with a juror during a trial about the matter pending before the jury is presumptively prejudicial."
This presumption of prejudice places the burden on the government to prove that such contact with the juror did not affect the verdict.
The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the lower courts, instructing them to hold a hearing to determine whether this incident harmed the defendant and, if so, to order a new trial. This ruling led to establishing the "Remmer Hearing" in cases of alleged juror misconduct.
What is Juror Misconduct?
Juror misconduct refers to any inappropriate or unlawful conduct by jurors that may affect the fairness and impartiality of their verdict. Jurors are typically warned against these behaviors at the beginning of a trial. Common examples of juror misconduct include:
- Unauthorized Investigation: Jurors conducting their research or investigations about the case, including visiting the crime scene or looking up legal terminology.
- External Communication: Discussing the case with friends, family, or anyone outside the jury can introduce biases and opinions not presented in court, jeopardizing the defendant's right to a fair trial.
- Failure to Disclose Information: Not revealing crucial information during the jury selection, such as a personal relationship with someone involved in the case, can skew a juror's impartiality.
- Influence of External Factors: Allowing news reports, public opinion, or other external influences to affect decision-making.
- Improper Use of Electronic Devices: Using smartphones, tablets, or other devices to conduct independent research or communicate about the case during the trial.
- Conferring with Other Jurors Out of Court: Discussions outside the deliberation room during the trial can lead to the exchange of opinions and biases that may influence the final verdict.
It is important to note that not all juror misconduct is intentional, but even unintentional actions can significantly impact the outcome of a trial. It's also worth noting that not all misconduct leads to the automatic reversal of a conviction; the misconduct must have likely affected the verdict, which is what the Remmer Hearing decides.
How Is Social Media Related to Juror Misconduct?
In the digital age, social media has become a significant risk factor concerning juror misconduct. The ease of access to information and the habit of sharing experiences online poses new challenges in maintaining the integrity of jury deliberations.
Social media-related juror misconduct often involves jurors accessing social media platforms like Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), or Instagram to post about the case or "scroll," sometimes even during the trial.
This behavior violates the confidentiality of the jury's deliberation process and exposes jurors to potential external influences and public opinions that can bias their judgment. Courts are increasingly aware of this problem and often explicitly instruct jurors to abstain from using social media regarding the case.
Some defense attorneys have argued that any social media use during a trial should be deemed prejudicial to a defendant. Still, the criminal courts have not accepted this argument. However, jurors' social media usage and access should be monitored during a trial, along with the defendant's social media accounts.
What Happens in a Remmer Hearing?
During a Remmer Hearing, the court thoroughly examines whether any extraneous influence was exerted on the jury and, if so, whether it prejudicially affected the jury's decision.
The procedure typically involves questioning the involved jurors and other relevant parties. The goal is to ascertain the nature and extent of any misconduct or improper influence.
The defense can present evidence of misconduct, while the prosecution may attempt to show that the alleged misconduct did not impact the jury's decision. If the court finds jury misconduct likely influenced the verdict, it must order a new trial. Contact our federal criminal defense attorneys for more information or a case review. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, California.