Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Jury Can't Re-Deliberate After Expressing Doubt After Verdict

In Commonwealth v. Lassiter, decided by the Appeals Court today, a jury announced a guilty verdict, but one juror spontaneously expressed doubt to the judge who came to speak to them after they left the courtroom. "On her own initiative, but without objection from either side, the judge then struck the OUI verdict and instructed the jury to redeliberate on that charge." The Appeals Court held that a jury cannot be called back to re-deliberate once a verdict has been accepted.

"Once a verdict has been affirmed by the jurors and recorded by the clerk, a judge is generally precluded from inquiring into alleged improprieties in the jury's deliberations or decision-making. See Commonwealth v. Brown, 367 Mass. 24, 28 (1975); Commonwealth v. Fidler, 377 Mass. 192, 196-198 (1979); Commonwealth v. Martell, 407 Mass. at 294-295. "Juror testimony concerning the mental processes of jurors during deliberations ... is not permitted to impeach a verdict." Cassamasse v. J.G. Lamotte & Son, Inc., 391 Mass. 315, 317-318 (1984). See Commonwealth v. Pytou Heang, 458 Mass. 827, 858 (2011). See also Mass. G. Evid. § 606(b) (2011).
"Thus, a judge generally cannot inquire into, or set aside, a recorded verdict on account of a juror's post-hoc statement that he or she disagreed with the verdict. See Commonwealth v. Dias, 419 Mass. 698, 702-703 (1995); Commonwealth v. Pytou Heang, supra. "Tension between jurors favoring guilt and those favoring acquittal is part and parcel of the internal decision-making process of jury deliberations." Commonwealth v. Mahoney, 406 Mass. 843, 855 (1990). "Whatever disagreement that a juror may have secretly entertained but did not indicate in open court may not be the basis for reversal." Commonwealth v. Lawson, 425 Mass. 528, 532 (1997). Once the juror affirms or acquiesces in the verdict as announced in open court, then "neither [his] change of heart nor [his] subsequent disclosure of a subjective disagreement with [his] apparent vote provides a basis for vacating the verdict." Commonwealth v. Dias, supra at 703. 
"Applying these principles, we conclude that the judge erred when she struck the first recorded verdict. "The jury's verdict was apparently unanimous, and any juror's inadequately disclosed, subjective disagreement with the verdict as announced cannot be the basis for vacating it ..." (footnote omitted). Commonwealth v. Dias, supra at 701-702."