Sixth Circuit Vacates Convictions Because of District Court's Failure to Hold Remmer Hearing to Determine Scope and Impact of Juror Misconduct

After jury deliberations had commenced a juror contacted a state prosecutor, who was not involved in the case, and expressed concern about the way the deliberations were going. The state prosecutor informed the juror that they could not discuss the matter and later contacted the district court to report the juror's call. The juror never raised any issue with the court or any of its personnel. The jury returned guilty verdicts not long after the juror's call to the state prosecutor, and a report from a court officer that the jury was "very clearly divided into two groups this morning and they're angry with each other." The district court denied the defendants' post-trial motions including motions to interview jurors. The case is United States v. Lanier, Nos. 16-6655/6657.

The Supreme Court's decision in Remmer v. United States, 347 U.S. 227 (1954), Established for District Court's a duty  to "investigate a colorable claim of external influence on the jury to determine whether any external influence occurred and, if so, whether it was prejudicial." Nevertheless, a district court's decision as to whether or not to hold a Remmer hearing is a matter of discretion.

The Sixth Circuit ruled that the district court abused its discretion in declining to hold a Remmer hearing. First, the juror initiated the contact with the state prosecutor and did so, it appears, to obtain input – an external influence – as to the jury deliberations. Second, the district court should have determined the scope and impact of the juror's misconduct: "because no one has ever questioned any member of the jury, we do 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." Third, the juror did not inform the district court of the Of either the issue that prompted the call to the state prosecutor or the fact that the call had occurred. Finally, the jury returned its verdict shortly after a report that it was divided into two opposing and angry groups, another fact that suggest the possibility of external influence.

The Sixth Circuit vacated the defendants' convictions and remanded the case to the district court to hold a Remmer hearing and make findings as to the scope and impact of the juror's misconduct.

Robert L. Abell

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