October 28, 2011

Colorado Court of Appeals 10-13-11 Criminal Law Decision - People v. Holt

People v. Holt            C.R.E. Rule 606(b) / Extraneous Information and Jury Verdicts           
Facts: An idiotic juror opined during deliberations that anyone who gets convicted of vehicular eluding gets a “slap on the wrist”, and that he/she/it knew this from personal experience. Further, during deliberations, several jurors either read or someone told them about the dictionary definition of  “elude”. The trial court held a hearing pursuant to Rule 606(b), and vacated the conviction. Carol Chambers, the DA in Arapahoe, appealed.
Issues: Whether the extraneous information prejudiced Mr. Holt and compromised the verdict?
Held: No.
Reasoning: Under Rule 606(b) the trial court’s inquiry into the validity of the jury verdict is limited to three situations:
(1) Whether extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jurors' attention,
(2) Whether any outside influence was improperly brought to bear upon any juror, or
(3) Whether there was a mistake in entering the verdict onto the verdict form.
            Moreover, the rule states, “A juror's affidavit or evidence of any statement by the juror may not be received on a matter about which the juror would be precluded from testifying.”
            The Court of Appeals first dealt with the juror “slap on the wrist” opinion. The Court found the juror’s statement did not amount to extraneous information because it was within the juror’s personal experience. The Court ignores the fact that most jurors would have no such knowledge, that the juror was factually wrong, and that this “personal knowledge” dealt with sentencing, which is wholly irrelevant as to whether Mr. Holt committed a crime. Further, its not hard to figure how this went – the juror made the statement because someone else was holding out for either a lesser or a not guilty. Thus, the juror reached to this inaccurate statement to persuade another juror or jurors to convict. Nevertheless, the Court of Appeals, closes its eyes to reason, and finds this information is not extraneous, and thus not prejudicial.  
            Secondly, the Court of Appeals held that reading or hearing the dictionary definition of elude also did not amount to extraneous prejudicial information.  The prosecution conceded the information qualified as extraneous, but that the dictionary definition did not prejudice Mr. Holt. The Court of Appeals reasoned because the defense did not provide the definition given to the jurors during deliberations, the defense did not carry its burden to prove prejudice. Thus, the Court of Appeals re-instated Mr. Holt’s convictions.
            The seminal case regarding Rule 606(b) is probably now People v. Harlan 109 P.3d 616 (2005). In Harlan, during the penalty phase of a death penalty case, a juror brought a bible into the deliberation room. Further, the juror possibly influenced other jurors. Specifically, the juror sought guidance from the bible in deciding whether to impose a life or death sentence for Mr. Harlan, and told at least one other juror that the Bible commands death. The trial court and subsequently, the Colorado Supreme Court held that extraneous information prejudiced Mr. Harlan, and compromised the verdict. The Colorado Supreme Court vacated the death sentence.

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