First Circuit Finds that Courts can Inquire into Juror Bias

Rhode Island Lawyers Weekly reports on a recent First Circuit opinion that found that a trial judge could conduct an inquiry into jury bias after one juror, following a bank robbery trial, reported that another juror had made a racially discriminatory remark. The 28-page decision in United States v. Villar, written by Judge Saris, is available here.  Here’s an excerpt:

After a jury trial, Defendant-appellant Richard Villar, a Hispanic man, was convicted of bank robbery. Hours following his conviction, defense counsel received an e-mail message from one of the jurors disclosing that during deliberations another juror said, “I guess we’re profiling but they cause all the trouble.” When defense counsel filed a motion for a court inquiry into the validity of the verdict, the court held a hearing in which the juror was asked only to authenticate the e-mail. Concluding that an allegation of ethnically biased statements within the jury room was not, as Villar argued, an external matter open to post-verdict inquiry, the district court held that Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) precluded the court from engaging in any further examination beyond the mere authentication of the e-mail.

Appellant now challenges the conviction on the grounds that the district court erred when it ruled that Rule 606(b) prohibited it from taking juror testimony about ethnically biased comments during the course of deliberations, and that the appellant was denied the right to due process and the right to an impartial jury in violation of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution. While we agree with the trial court that Rule 606(b) precludes inquiry into juror prejudice, we hold that the court has the discretion to conduct such an inquiry under the Sixth Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution. Accordingly, the Court reverses the district court’s order denying appellant’s motion to make an inquiry into the validity of the verdict, and remands to the trial court. Appellant also argues that the District Court incorrectly applied the four-level enhancement under United States Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 2B3.1(b)(2)(D), an argument that we find has no merit.


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