This past Monday Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was at NYU Law School to discuss the American jury. The event was part of an ongoing assessment by the Civil Jury Project to examine the current state of the civil jury system in the United States.
In Warden v. Ayala the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court held that any federal constitutional error that may have occurred by excluding Ayala’s attorney from part of a Batson hearing was harmless. A federal court cannot grant Ayala habeas relief unless the state court’s rejection of his claim was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court, or was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts.
SCT Grants Cert. in Another Batson Case: Foster v. Humphrey
The issue in Foster v. Humphrey, a death penalty case involving a Black defendant, a White victim and an all-White jury is whether the Georgia courts erred in failing to recognize race discrimination under Batson v. Kentucky in the extraordinary circumstances of this death penalty case. The case will be argued in the fall.
The facts here seem to favor Foster; however, one can never be sure with these cases.
--Prosecutors highlighted the name of each prospective Black juror in green (see above)
--Black jurors referenced as "B#1," "B#2," and "B#3"
--Prosecutor's investigator ranked each Black juror against the other Black jurors
--All Black jurors were struck by the prosecution
--Prosecutor at the close of trial requested a death verdict from the jury to “deter other people out there in the projects."
Last week, the SCT, in a unanimous opinion, Hana Financial v. Hana Bank, found that trademark tracking (determining whether a prior version of a trademark may be "tacked" on to a later version of the mark for purposes of deciding priority) is a question that should be decided by a jury not a judge. More information about this case can be found here.
The SCT has issued its opinion in Warger v. Shauers. No surprises here as the Supreme Court upheld the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and ruled in a unanimous decision that juror comments during deliberations cannot be used to show dishonesty during jury selection.
This case arose out of a motor vehicle accident in which a motorcyclists collided with a truck. The motorcyclist (petitioner/plaintiff) lost his leg and then subsequently brought a negligence action against the driver of the truck (respondent/defendant). The jury, after two trials the first of which ended in a mistrial, found in favor of the driver of the truck.
Shortly after the trial, a juror approached plaintiff's counsel and informed him that one juror, the forewoman, refused to decide the case on the evidence submitted. This juror further informed plaintiff's counsel that the forewoman told other jurors during deliberations that her daughter had been at fault in a fatal automobile accident and that had she been sued it would have "ruined her life."
Plaintiff's counsel had the juror complete a sworn affidavit in which he detailed the actions of the forewoman. However, the trial court, citing FRE 606(b), refused to admit the affidavit into evidence. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's decision.
Generally speaking, FRE 606(b), the juror anti-impeachment rule, prohibits the introduction of evidence concerning juror deliberations except for testimony regarding whether an outside influence was used to persuade any juror. FRE 606(b), is in place to: (1) provide verdict finality; (2) encourage jurors to freely express themselves during deliberations; and (3) reduce the amount of post-trial hounding jurors receive from attorneys. Courts of appeal, however, have not been uniform in their application of this rule. This ruling should provide them better guidance.
To access the opinion go here. To access oral arguments go here.
Previously, I blogged about the juror dishonesty case, Warger v. Shauers, that is currently before the Supreme Court. Professor Sherry Colb of Cornell, pictured above, has recently written a brief article offering her own opinion on the case. Her article also has a prediction on how the Supreme Court might rule.