(CN) - The Supreme Court ruled that a juror's affidavit regarding comments made during trial deliberations cannot be used by the losing party to seek a new trial.
The petitioner in the case, Gregory Warger, was riding his motorcycle on a highway outside of Rapid City, S.D. in 2006, when he was struck from behind by a truck driven by Randy Shauers. Warger was seriously injured in the accident, ultimately losing his left leg.
He sued Shauers for negligence, but following a trial the jury decided the case in Shauers favor.
Shortly afterward, one of the jurors contacted Warger's attorney claiming that Regina Whipple, the jury forewoman, had revealed during deliberations that her daughter had been at fault in a fatal motor vehicle accident, and that a lawsuit would have ruined her daughter's life.
Armed with an affidavit from the juror, Warger moved for a new trial, arguing that Whipple had deliberately lied during jury selection about her impartiality, and ability to award damages.
The district court denied Warger's motion, ruling that Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) which bars evidence "about any statement made ... during the jury's deliberations," barred the use of the affidavit. The 8th Circuit later affirmed, holding that 606(b)'s exclusion of evidence of alleged juror misconduct applied to the jury-selection process of a trial.
On Tuesday, a unanimous Supreme Court agreed, explaining that in doing so, "we simply accord Rule 606(b)'s terms their plain meaning."
"This understanding of the text of Rule 606(b) is consistent with the underlying common-law rule on which it is based," wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor. "Although some common-law courts would have permitted evidence of jury deliberations to be introduced to demonstrate juror dishonesty during voir dire, the majority would not, and the language of Rule 606(b) reflects Congress' enactment of the more restrictive version of the common-law rule."
Mindful of the basis of the lower court's concerns, Warger narrowly tailored his argument before the justices, trying to convince them that the proceedings that would follow a motion on a juror's dishonesty would not necessarily call into question the jury's verdict itself.
The court was not persuaded.
"The Rule does not focus on the means by which deliberations evidence might be used to invalidate a verdict," Sotomayor wrote. "It does not say 'during an inquiry into jury deliberations,' or prohibit the introduction of evidence of deliberations 'for use in determining whether an asserted error affected the jury's verdict.' It simply applies '[d]uring an inquiry into the validity of the verdict' - that is, during a proceeding in which the verdict may be rendered invalid.
"Whether or not a juror's alleged misconduct during voir dire had a direct effect on the jury's verdict, the motion for a new trial requires a court to determine whether the verdict can stand."
Warger also argued that because, in his view, Whipple should have been disqualified from the jury, any information she shared with other jurors was extraneous to the deliberations at hand.
"We cannot agree that whenever a juror should have been excluded from the jury, anything that juror says is necessarily 'extraneous' within the meaning of Rule 606(b)(2)(A)," Sotomayor wrote. "Were that correct, parties would find it quite easy to avoid Rule 606(b)'s limitations."
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