Verdict Vacated Based on Juror Contact with Prosecutor


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Case: United States v. Lanier

Court: U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit ( Published Opinion )

Judges: Moore, Stranch, and Donald

Issues:

A juror’s extraneous communications with a state prosecutor; Remmer v. United States; United States v. Davis; United States v. Herndon; United States v. Shackelford; United States v. Frost; United States v. Rigsby

Summary:

Where the district court failed to investigate a juror’s extraneous communications with a state prosecutor, the court vacated the defendants-Laniers’ convictions and remanded for a Remmer hearing. During the Laniers’ trial for fraudulently obtaining government contracts and wire fraud, one of the jurors contacted an assistant state prosecutor by phone to discuss jury deliberations. This prosecutor was not involved with the defendants’ federal case and declined to discuss the juror’s concerns, recommended that the juror contact the judge, and reported the contact to the district court. The district court denied defendants’ request to interview the jurors and their motion for a mistrial based on the extraneous communication where the juror’s contact was “unsuccessful.” It was later learned that the juror and prosecutor had met sometime before the phone call and that the juror had mentioned she was on a jury. The court held that because the case involved “claims of ‘intentional improper contacts or contacts that had an obvious potential for improperly influencing the jury,”’ failing to conduct a Remmer hearing “was not a proper exercise of the trial court’s discretion.” The juror’s contact with the third party was “intentional and improper,” and “had an obvious potential for improper influence[.]” Whether or not the prosecutor “acted appropriately, the juror acted inappropriately in seeking outside input on the case.” Given that no one questioned any member of the jury, the court did “not know the extent of the juror’s misconduct in contacting third parties and discussing the case with outsiders or what impact the juror’s misconduct involving extraneous communications had on the rest of the jury.” Further, while “the fact that a juror instigated contact with a third party in order to discuss the case would be enough to require the district court to hold a Remmer hearing,” the juror did not contact the district court as the prosecutor suggested, and the jury returned a verdict shortly after the phone call, even though it was apparently divided and angry that same morning. Because the court held that the district court abused its discretion by not ordering a Remmer hearing, it vacated the convictions and remanded “to determine whether any external influence affected the jury’s deliberations.” It retained jurisdiction.

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