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U.S. Supreme Court

Can federal juror’s comment in deliberations be used to show voir-dire dishonesty? SCOTUS to decide

Posted Mar 4, 2014 9:45 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether a federal juror’s statements during deliberations can be used to show dishonesty during voir dire.

The court agreed to hear the case on Monday, report SCOTUSblog and the Associated Press. The plaintiff in the case is a South Dakota man who lost his leg when a truck passed him and clipped the motorcycle he was riding, according to the cert petition (PDF). The jury found for the truck driver.

The motorcyclist is seeking a new trial because of a juror’s revelation during deliberations that her daughter had been at fault in a similar case. The juror, who was elected foreperson, said a suit against her daughter would have “ruined her life," another juror reported after the trial.

During voir dire, the woman had said she could be impartial.

At issue is whether statements made during deliberations are admissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence. Rule 606(b) generally bars testimony about deliberations in an inquiry about the validity of a verdict, but includes three exceptions. Two of them are at issue in the case. First, testimony is allowed about extraneous prejudicial information that was improperly brought to the jury’s attention. Second, testimony is allowed about any outside influence brought to bear on any juror.

The lawyer for the motorcyclist argues that the juror’s statements were being introduced to demonstrate that she had lied during voir dire, rather than to inquire into the validity of the verdict. The lower courts disagreed, and also found that none of the exceptions allowed admission of the evidence.

The case is Warger v. Shauers.

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