Juror Misconduct

Even if they are not sequestered, jurors are instructed not to discuss any subject pertaining to the trial prior to the time the jury begins their deliberations. This includes fellow jurors.

Each juror has a duty to report as soon as possible any incident where any person attempted to influence any member of the jury outside of the room where the jurors deliberate. A Jurors must report to the court any violation they see committed by other jurors against warnings given by the judge not to discuss the case outside the jury room or against listening, reading or viewing news reports about the case. In regard to jurors’ avoidance of any contact with news reports, the judge in many jurisdictions is required to explain to the jury his reason for warning them to do so.

There are a number of documented examples of juror misconduct that illustrate the above principles. The first kind of example is jurors bringing in outside information not given to them at trial. In an automobile accident case, a juror on his own visited the accident site and drew a diagram of the intersection. The next day when the jury deliberated, he showed the jury the diagram and brought into the room a copy of a book on state traffic laws, the contents of which they discussed. In a second instance communication was said to have taken place between members of the jury and a customer in a restaurant who approached their table and urged them to impose the death penalty. In these instances, what occurred was clearly prejudicial and resulted in the trial verdict being overturned.

There are some instances in which the rules about outside communication were not followed, but were not considered egregious enough to warrant the verdict being overturned. In one case, the jury did not understand what was meant by the term proximate cause. Instead of asking the judge for clarification, they brought in a dictionary to help them. Because the dictionary definition did not conflict with what the judge had told them earlier as to what that word mean, it was not considered to be prejudicial.

There have been a large number of cases where jurors have gone to the judge or other court officials after the trial is over to complain they were intimidated by other jurors into voting with the majority. Courts will not take any action at this point for these reasons. First, before deliberations have concluded, a juror can report intimidation to court officials. Second, the jury can be polled individually in open court to see if each person voluntarily agrees with the verdict. Third, courts are unwilling to meddle in or speculate about how the jury reached its decision; a jury’s deliberations are meant to be secret in order for non-jurors not to have any influence. Outbursts of emotion, such as throwing chairs or cursing, are looked upon by courts as consequences that should not be unexpected and will not in themselves be sufficient to have intimidated jurors into not voting according to their own evaluation of the evidence. Finally, allowing inquiries after a verdict would jeopardize the finality of a jury’s decision and might result in endless additional time wasted.

Inside Juror Misconduct