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United States v. Lanier

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville

January 26, 2018




         This matter is before the Court to consider the defendants' joint motion to issue a subpoena to Juror 11 for certain text message and internet browser history, [Doc. 335]. The government responded in opposition, [Doc. 338], and the matter is now ripe for review. For the reasons stated herein, the defendants' motion, [Doc. 335], is DENIED.

         I. FACTS

         Pursuant to the Sixth Circuit's instructions on remand, [Doc. 307], this Court held a Remmer hearing on January 11, 2018 to determine if any extraneous influence on the jury led to bias or prejudice against the defendants and impacted the jury's verdict. See Remmer v. United States, 347 U.S. 227, 229-30 (1954). The Sixth Circuit determined that a Remmer hearing was necessary because, during the final day of deliberations, the Court became aware that Juror 11 placed a phone call to her personal friend Assistant District Attorney Teresa Nelson (“ADA Nelson”). ADA Nelson contacted the Court to report this call, which the undersigned communicated to the parties on the record. [Doc. 212, pgs. 3-5]. ADA Nelson reported that Juror 11 called and mentioned that there was “a problem with the deliberations.” [Id. at 3]. ADA Nelson stated that she advised Juror 11 that they could not discuss the case, and that Juror 11 should contact the Judge with any problems, and ended the conversation without discussing the case. [Id.]. The Sixth Circuit remanded the case for a Remmer hearing, directing that the parties should have the opportunity to question ADA Nelson, Juror 11, and the rest of the jury “to determine whether any external influence affected the jury's deliberations.” [Doc. 307].

         In addition to the subpoenas issued to compel the appearance of the jurors at the Remmer hearing, each juror received an Order Regarding Attendance of Jurors from this Court, which included the following language:

2. Although the Court recognizes that you may have questions about this subpoena and Order, you must not discuss your jury service or this case with any other person between now and the date of the forthcoming hearing on January 11, 2018.
3. In addition, you must not contact (i) any other jurors who may have served with you in this case, or (ii) any other individual who has knowledge about the case.
4. Similarly, you must not conduct any research into this case or seek out any information about this case or the defendants. This prohibition against research includes searching the internet or attempting to obtain information about the case through any other means. If you are exposed to any news articles or other information about this case or the defendants, you should not read or view such information.

[Doc. 322]. During the Remmer proceedings, the parties had the opportunity to examine each juror and ADA Nelson. Counsel questioned each juror regarding his or her knowledge of any outside influence during deliberations. Juror 11 was questioned in more detail regarding the phone call that she placed to ADA Nelson.

         During examination of ADA Nelson, she reported that Juror 11 had sent her a text message on Sunday, January 7, 2018, in which Juror 11 included the case name and citation, and the phrase “Remmer Hearing, ” and asked: “Does any of that lead you to know what in the world this is about two years later?” [Doc. 333, pg. 88]. Juror 11 was examined later in the proceedings about this text message. When asked by defense counsel whether she reached out to ADA Nelson to ask what the upcoming hearing was about, she responded, “No, I did not say that.” [Id.]. When confronted with the text of her communication, she stated the she did not recall saying that. [Id. at 88-89]. Juror 11 testified that she lost the court paperwork temporarily, and searched “Greeneville federal court” in her web browser to find the court calendar to ensure she had the correct date and time for the hearing. [Id. at 78-80]. She testified that she had not done any other research on the case, neither during the 2015 trial nor in relation to the Remmer hearing. [Id. at 49, 79].

         II. ANALYSIS

         It is well established that trial court judges are granted “considerable discretion in determining the amount of inquiry necessary, if any, in response to allegations of jury misconduct.” United States v. Logan, 250 F.3d 350, 378 (6th Cir. 2001). As a general rule, however, federal courts are reluctant to allow post-trial contact with discharged jurors. “Proper functioning of the jury system requires that jurors be free of post-trial inquisition and harassment.” United States v. Dye, 508 F.2d 1226, 1232 (6th Cir. 1974) (finding that post-trial contact by a juror concerning the verdict was “not of sufficient gravity to impair the verdict of the jury or to justify further inquiry.” (citing Stein v. New York, 346 U.S. 156, 178 (1953))); Haeberle v. Texas Intern. Airlines, 739 F.2d 1019, 1021 (5th Cir. 1984) (“Prohibiting post-verdict interviews protects the jury from an effort to find grounds for post-verdict charges of misconduct, reduces the ‘chances and temptations' for tampering with the jury, increases the certainty of civil trials, and spares the district courts time-consuming and futile proceedings.” (citing O'Rear v. Fruehauf Corp., 554 F.2d 1304, 1310 n.4 (5th Cir. 1977))). In determining when to allow post-verdict jury contact, courts have balanced the interests set forth by the parties against the jurors' privacy interests, as well as the public interest in well-administered justice. Id.

         Further, while authority regarding the issuance of post-trial subpoenas on jurors is limited, the available authority seems to indicate that courts are unwilling to allow such action absent a strong showing of necessity. For instance, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the trial court properly denied defendant's request to subpoena jurors after the trial when there were “no claims that these jurors had demonstrated or admitted to any prejudice against appellant or his attorney, ” and when “both the defendant and the government has an ample opportunity to present their contentions.” United States v. Johnston 685 F.2d 934, 941 (5th Cir. 1982); see also Polymer Dynamics, Inc. v. Bayer Corp., 2007 WL 2343796 at *3-4 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 1, 2017), vacated in part on other grounds, 341 Fed. App'x 771 (3rd Cir. 2009) (granting motion to quash a subpoena delivered to a juror post-trial because there had been “no proof of illegality.”). Similarly, in Honken v. United States, a trial court concluded that the movant was not entitled to further interview a juror regarding external influence and bias when the “existing record regarding [the juror] is already extensive, ” and the “testimony already elicited from the jurors is sufficient to resolve the movant's … claim.” Honken v. United States, 2011 WL 4527573 at *12 (N.D. Iowa Sept. 28, 2011); United States v. Eagle, 539 F.2d 1166, 1170-71 (8th Cir. 1976) (holding that the trial court properly denied a motion to subpoena jurors when there was no contention that the juror in question voiced the potential extraneous influence in the jury room, and “alleged no overt acts susceptible to the other jurors' knowledge.”).

         The defendants seek production of Juror 11's web browser search history between December 27, 2017 and January 11, 2018, and all text messages sent or received between January 3, 2018 and January 11, 2018 containing certain search terms. [Doc. 335-1]. The defendants also request “[a]ll text messages on any phone or device that you regularly use for communication purposes sent to or received from ADA Nelson, ” which, the Court notes, is outside of the scope of what they requested at the Remmer hearing. [Doc. 333, pgs. 96-102]. The defendants claim that the issuance of such a subpoena is necessary to determine whether Juror 11 violated the Court's Order Regarding Attendance of Jurors for ...

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