Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

Satisfying the Appearance of Justice When a Juror's Intentional Nondisclosure of Material Information Comes to Light

Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

Satisfying the Appearance of Justice When a Juror's Intentional Nondisclosure of Material Information Comes to Light

Article excerpt

"The right to a trial by an impartial jury is too important, and the threat to that right too great, to justify rigid insistence on actual proof of bias. Such a requirement blinks reality."1


Voir dire examination during jury selection serves to protect a litigant's right to an impartial trier of fact "by exposing possible biases, both known and unknown, on the part of potential jurors."2 The power of voir dire to expose jurors' possible biases is limited, however. Jurors sometimes fail to disclose material information in response to questions on voir dire, either inadvertently3 or deliberately.4

What voir dire fails to expose may nevertheless come to light in other ways.5 After a trial, the discovery that a juror failed to disclose information relevant to the assessment of possible biases may cast doubt upon the juror's impartiality and the fairness of the verdict. One illustrative example comes from the Massachusetts case of Commonwealth v. Amirault.6 After a jury found Amirault guilty of rape and other sexual crimes, a member of the public who had read a newspaper article about the trial and seen a photograph of the jurors telephoned Amirault's attorneys.7 The caller reported that he recognized one of the jurors and claimed that the juror, as a teenager, had accused the caller's cousin of rape.8 The caller said that the case went to court and that his cousin received a prison sentence.9 For these reasons, the caller questioned "whether Amirault received a 'fair shake.'"10

The record of Amirault's trial showed that, during jury selection, the juror in question denied having been "a party or victim in a civil or criminal case."11 In response to a question asking whether the juror, any members of her12 immediate family, or any close friends had "ever been a victim, witness, or defendant in a criminal case," the juror revealed only that a family member had been charged with the crime of driving under the influence.13 Amirault's counsel initiated an investigation after the caller's tip, and the investigation confirmed that a man was sent to prison for raping the juror.14

Amirault moved for a new trial, and, at a hearing on the motion, the court heard testimony from the juror who failed to disclose that she had been raped.15 The juror testified that she remembered that "something" had happened to her as a child, but she claimed to have no memory of the nature of the incident.16 References to sexual assault and rape did not refresh her memory.17 Amirault's counsel made an offer of proof that, before the hearing, the juror's attorney told the court clerk that the juror was "involved in a sexual incident as a youngster but was unable to recall any details of the incident."18 The trial court nevertheless denied Amirault's motion.19 The court based its decision on a finding that the juror had provided honest answers during jury selection and that her nondisclosure of the rape was unintentional.20

The validity of juries' verdicts in cases like Amirault is the subject of this Note, which addresses the issues of when a court should find that a juror intentionally concealed material information during voir dire and under what circumstances a court should grant a new trial on the basis of such a finding. Consideration of these issues begins in Part II with a discussion of the relevant protections of due process and their relationship to truthfulness during voir dire. In Part III, this Note traces the development of various rules that courts have fashioned for determining whether a juror's intentional nondisclosure of material information warrants a new trial. Part IV considers the importance of the appearance of justice and recommends that courts take a particular approach when a juror's intentional disclosure of material information comes to light. This Note concludes in Part V with summaries of the recommended approach and its underlying rationale.


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