Recent favorable juror misconduct cases
Posted on: 7/28/2014 03:42:02 PM by Peoples
United States District Court Judge William K. Sessions, III of the District of Vermont granted relief to federal death row inmate Donald Fell on a claim of juror misconduct that was premised on the juror visiting the crime scenes during trial and reporting his observations to other jurors, conduct the juror denied at the post-conviction hearing.  United States v. Fell, 2:01-cr-00012 (D. Vermont July, 24, 2014).  Judge Sessions concluded that the juror’s hearing testimony was not credible and Fell had established the misconduct occurred.  Judge Sessions found that not only did the government fail to rebut the presumption of prejudice that arose from the juror’s exposure to extra-record information, he also found that the juror’s investigation was not harmless in that it provided additional facts supporting certain aggravating factors and countered mitigation arguments.  Judge Sessions further ruled that Fell was entitled to relief independently on the basis of juror bias.  He explained: “Juror 143’s brazen disobedience, dishonesty, and unwillingness to decide the case based upon the evidence presented at trial demonstrate a partiality that would have resulted in his eviction from the panel during trial, and now invalidates Fell’s conviction.”

The California Supreme Court reversed the convictions and death sentence of Fred Weatherton due to misconduct by a juror who had formed an opinion about Weatherton’s guilt prior to deliberations and became a “combative advocate before deliberations began,” expressing his views and seeking to influence other jurors.  People v. Weatherton, ___ P.3d ___, 2014 WL 3030249 (Cal. July 7, 2014).  The Fourth Circuit (Traxler, with Niemeyer and Shedd), reversed the denial of habeas relief as to penalty for North Carolina death row inmate Jason Hurst and remanded the case for determination of whether extraneous communication between a juror and her father during the penalty phase had a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the jury’s verdict.  Hurst v. Joyner, ___ F.3d ___, 2014 WL 2959121 (4th Cir. July 2, 2014).   The communication at issue involved the juror asking her father prior to penalty phase deliberations where to look in the Bible for help and guidance in deciding between a life sentence and a death sentence.  He gave her the section of the Bible concerning an “eye for an eye.”