Juror Facebook Posts During Trial And Deliberations: Juror Bias And The McDonough Test
U.S v. Ganias
United States District Court
2011 WL 4738684
Decided on: October 5, 2011
Juror’s Actions Showed No Reasonable Grounds Of Juror Misconduct
Summary: Defendant was convicted on two counts of tax invasion. On the day of sentencing, he filed a motion for a new trial and for an evidentiary hearing based on alleged juror improprieties. Specifically, 1) comments Juror X posted on his Facebook account that indicated possible bias and a predisposition to find guilt and 2) improper communications between Juror X and another juror, Juror Y, during the trial. The District Court questioned Juror X in chambers and held that Juror X had no prejudicial communications about the case and presented no reasonable grounds to support Defendant’s allegations of bias or misconduct. The United States District Court denied Defendant’s motion for further inquiry and a new trial.
Issue: Whether a Defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial was violated when a member of the jury demonstrated bias when he posted on his Facebook page, “jury duty sucks” and “guilty” on the day of the verdict.
Holding: The United States District Court held that the defendant showed no reasonable grounds of improper prejudicial communications or premature deliberations and denied Defendant’s motion for a new trial.
A Defendant who seeks a new trial on grounds of juror misconduct or undisclosed bias faces a very high hurdle. Such an investigation is justified only when reasonable grounds exist. There must be clear, strong, substantial and incontrovertible evidence that a specific, non-speculative impropriety has occurred which could have prejudiced the trial.
Facts: Defendant Ganias was convicted on two counts of tax invasion. On the day of sentencing, Defendant filed motion for a new trial and for an evidentiary hearing based on alleged juror improprieties, specifically 1) comments Juror X posted on his Facebook account that indicated possible bias and a predisposition to find guilt and 2) improper communications between Juror X and another juror, Juror Y, during the trial. Juror X appeared before the Court in chambers and was questioned by Ganias’s counsel and the Government to determine whether his Facebook postings reflected any bias or predisposition that he did not reveal or disclose during voir dire.
The Court concluded that that Juror X was credible and his testimony was truthful. The Court held that Juror X showed no reasonable ground, let alone any strong, clear or incontrovertible evidence to support Defendant Ganias’s allegations of bias of conduct. The United States District Court denied Defendant’s motion for a new trial.
Legal Analysis: The United States District Court held that an essential element of a Defendant’s right to a fair trial is an impartial jury. To ensure the selection of an impartial jury, the court and the parties engage in the voir dire process and ask questions of potential jurors which are designed to expose any possible known or unknown biases that they might have, McDonough Power Equip., Inc v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548, 554, 104 S.Ct. 845, 78 L.Ed.2d 663 1984. This analysis known as the McDonough test, requires a court to first hand find that a juror answered a question dishonestly, as opposed to merely failing in good faith to respond to a question, and then determine if it would have granted a challenge for cause based on a truthful answer Greer v. United States, 285 F.3d 158, 171 2d Cir. 2002.
The United States District Court held that, only if a Defendant satisfies both prongs of the McDonough test by showing 1) a juror deliberately omitted or misstated facts during voir dire and 2) the juror’s nondisclosure concealed some bias or partiality that would have sustained a for-cause challenge. United States v. Stewart, 317 F.Supp.2d 432, 347 S.D.N.Y. 2004.
Defendant moved for an evidentiary hearing and a new trial on the grounds that he had discovered information showing that one of the jurors was predisposed to find him guilty. Defendant asserted that the day after Juror X was selected to serve on the jury, but before the start of evidence, he posted comments on Facebook. According to Defendant, the postings and the comments of a few of Juror X’s Facebook friends posted in response constitute improper extraneous third party contact about the case during the trial. Defendant also argues that Juror X and Juror Y became friends a few days after the start or the trial, and although no evidence of any specific misconduct, claims that they had improper intra jury discussions and premature deliberations about the case and that their friendship posed a high risk that “poisoned the deliberations” of the jury.
The United States District Court concluded that there were reasonable grounds to interview Juror X and asked him to appear in chambers to be questioned to determine whether his Facebook postings reflected any bias or predisposition that was not revealed or disclosed during voir dire. After both parties concluded their questioning of Juror X, the United States District Court held that the interview did not show reasonable ground or any strong, clear or incontrovertible evidence, to support the Defendant’s allegations of bias or misconduct. The court also denied the Defendant’s request to subpoena Juror X’s Facebook for further communication and discussions with Juror X.
The United States District Court concluded that the Defendant’s claims of misconduct and juror bias had not established reasonable grounds that warrant a further inquiry or a new trial. The court held that Juror X’s answers were presumptively honest and had not caused the court to question his credibility. Accordingly, the United States District Court held that in the absence of any clear and strong evidence that a specific prejudicial impropriety existed, neither an expanded inquiry nor a new trial is warranted. The court denied Defendant’s motion.