United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
V. S. GRANADE SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
action is before the Court on the motion of Defendant Xiulu
Ruan for leave to contact jurors (Doc. 527) and the
Government's opposition thereto (Doc. 546). Defendant
requests leave to contact one or more members of the jury to
explore and investigate the circumstances of potential
improper jury conduct. For the reasons discussed below,
Defendant's motion will be denied.
the course of the trial in this matter, after jury selection,
there were several instances when jury issues or juror
conduct was brought to the attention of the Court and
counsel. All counsel were advised of the circumstances to the
extent known by the Court. The issues began approximately six
weeks into the seven-week trial. At that time, it was
reported that a week prior, a juror had stated to herself,
but overheard by other jurors, that she had already made up
her mind. Defense counsel for both Defendants indicated they
thought the reported conduct simply amounted to a juror
thinking out loud and that since a juror is presumed to
follow instructions, including listening to all evidence and
keeping an open mind, there was nothing to investigate
further or do. The Court agreed.
Court, sua sponte, raised the issue again near the
end of the trial and suggested that, since there were
sufficient alternate jurors remaining, the juror who
reportedly made the statements earlier be designated as an
alternate and thereby be dismissed before deliberations
began. Defense counsel strongly objected to the juror being
made an alternate, arguing that there was no basis to do so
and that the Court had already properly decided that there
was nothing to investigate or do about the issue. Defense
counsel stated that they wanted the jury they had selected,
with alternate juror status to remain as originally chosen.
The Court acquiesced and left the juror's status
unchanged based on the vociferous objections by the defense.
the jury began deliberating, a court security officer
reportedly heard a juror say to another juror: “You all
do what you want, keep deliberating. I made up my mind after
the second week. But y'all just, you know, do whatever
you want. My mind is made up.” Although counsel for the
Government asked that further inquiry be made, the Court
after discussing the matter with counsel decided to take no
action. Defense counsel did not object or demand further
while the jury was still deliberating, counsel for Defendant
Ruan reported that a person who gave his name and identified
himself as a dismissed alternate juror in this case called
his office saying he had information for counsel and needed
to speak with them urgently. Defense counsel did not speak to
the person. After discussing the matter with counsel, the
undersigned judge called the alternate juror and questioned
him about his reason for calling counsel. During the phone
call, the alternate juror reported that he wanted the Court
and counsel to know that during the course of the trial one
of the jurors, who is still on the jury, said she had made up
her mind and that other jurors heard her make the statement.
The Court asked the parties what, if anything, they wanted to
do with that information. Counsel for all parties indicated
they were fine with just leaving it alone.
the course of trial, the Court repeatedly instructed the
jurors to wait until deliberations to make their decisions.
“A jury is presumed to follow its instructions.
Weeks v. Angelone, 528 U.S. 225, 234 (2000) (citing
Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200, 211 (1987)). When
the juror issues were raised during trial, defense counsel
agreed with this tenet and put full faith in the jury's
ability to follow those instructions. Defense counsel
objected to and argued against any action being taken to
further investigate the situation or to attempt to alleviate
any concern by switching the juror that had reportedly made
the statements with an alternate juror.
motion for leave to contact the jurors, defense counsel
states that he was contacted by a local news reporter who
advised that the same dismissed alternate juror who had
telephoned counsel's office during deliberations had also
contacted the reporter with concerns about jurors
predetermining the case.
Court has a “strong interest in protecting jurors from
threats and needless harassment from unsuccessful
parties.” United States v. Venske, 296 F.3d
1284, 1292 (11th Cir. 2002) (citing McDonald v.
Pless, 238 U.S. 264, 267 (1915)). As the Eleventh
Circuit has explained:
Permission to attack jury verdicts by postverdict
interrogations of jurors would allow defendants to launch
inquiries into jury conduct in the hope of discovering
something that might invalidate the verdicts against them.
“Jurors would be harassed and beset by the defeated
party in an effort to secure from them evidence of facts
which might establish misconduct sufficient to set aside a
verdict.” Id. at 119-20, 107 S.Ct. 2739
(quoting McDonald, 238 U.S. at 267-68, 35 S.Ct.
783). Such events would result in “the destruction of
all frankness and freedom of discussion” in the jury
room. Id. And, as early as 1892, the Supreme Court
expressed concern that such postverdict investigation would
“induce tampering with individual jurors subsequent to
the verdict.” Mattox v. United States, 146
U.S. 140, 149, 13 S.Ct. 50, 36 L.Ed. 917 (1892). In a justice
system that depends upon public confidence in the jury's
verdict, such events are unacceptable.
United States v. Siegelman, 640 F.3d 1159, 1185-86
(11th Cir. 2011).
instant case, Defendant wants to conduct an investigation of
the same juror conduct that defense counsel was content to do
nothing about during the course of trial. The defendant
resisted all efforts and suggestions to further investigate
the issue at that time. Nothing has changed since these
issues were first raised with counsel. The Court remains
unconvinced that any additional action should have been taken
then or should now be permitted to occur. Questioning the
jury after the verdict would undermine “the
community's trust in a system that relies on the
decisions of laypeople, ” and might discourage juries
from engaging in “full and frank discussions in the
jury room, ” and from being willing “to return an
unpopular verdict.” Siegelman, 640 F.3d at
1185 (quoting Tanner v. United States, 483 U.S. ...