What Happens If A Juror Tries To Recant A Vote To Convict A Defendant?
In criminal cases, a jury must reach a unanimous verdict. The jury’s deliberations are also secret. No third party is allowed to try and influence the jurors once their deliberations have begun. But what if a juror feels pressured or bullied by their colleagues to reach a guilty verdict? Can that justify undoing a guilty verdict?
Appellate Court Reinstates Guilty Verdict After Finding Juror’s Note Not Admissible as Evidence
The Texas First District Court of Appeals recently confronted such a case. In State v. Gallien, Harris County prosecutors charged the defendant with aggravated robbery. As is common practice in Texas, the initial trial determined the defendant’s guilt or innocence. The jury returned a unanimous “guilty” verdict and proceeded to the second phase of the trial to decide the defendant’s sentence.
During the sentencing deliberations, the jury foreperson informed the judge that there was an 11-1 split on whether to apply certain sentencing enhancements. The following day one of the jurors–presumably the lone dissenter–sent the judge a handwritten note, which stated in part, “What if a juror feels that they were pressured by their peers into a guilty verdict?” The juror said she was “not comfortable with the guilty verdict” reached during the initial deliberations but that she acquiesced to the other jurors because she feared being “bullied.”
The judge initially granted a new trial on the issue of punishment. The defendant then asked the judge to throw out the guilty verdict as well on the grounds it was not truly “unanimous,” based on the lone juror’s note. The judge decided to grant a mistrial on the guilty verdict in the “interest of justice.”
The prosecutors appealed the judge’s decision. The First District agreed with the state that there were insufficient legal grounds to throw out the guilty verdict. More specifically, the decision to grant a new trial–or a mistrial, which was functionally the same thing in the appellate court’s view–was based solely on the juror’s handwritten note. But this note was inadmissible as evidence, the appellate court held.
The Texas Rules of Evidence that govern criminal cases provides that, “During an inquiry into the validity of a verdict or indictment, a juror may not testify about any statement made or incident that occurred during the jury’s deliberations.” This includes any statements regarding a juror’s “mental processes concerning the verdict.” A court may only consider a juror’s testimony with respect to “outside influence,” or to rebut a claim the juror “was not qualified to serve.” But a judge cannot consider any testimony from the juror regarding what happened in the deliberations, even if they felt pressured to convict a defendant. As such, the First District held it was improper to grant a new trial on the defendant’s guilt or innocence.
Contact Pearland Criminal Defense Attorney Keith B. French Today
If you are charged with a crime, the best thing you can do to try and secure a favorable outcome is to work with an experienced Pearland criminal defense lawyer. Contact the Law Office of Keith B. French, PLLC, today if you need to speak with an attorney right away.