Jury Deliberations Sacrosanct?

Long-Time Lurker, here.

This is for Bricker, DSYoung, Melin, other legal eagles.

I was involved some time ago in a protracted civil trial. I was jury foreman. After the verdict, investigation into one of the jurors revealed that the juror may have had cause for bias. I was subpoenaed (sp?) to discuss the case with the judge (In my opinion, the juror in question had no “followers” and didn’t greatly influence the outcome of the case). During this drama, I sought the advice of a family friend who is an attorney. He assured me that in most cases jury deliberations are “sacrosanct” and the judge would require some pretty heavy reasons to disturb that seal of privacy.

My questions are: What is typically grounds for opening jury deliberations? Why are deliberations typically kept secret? (It seems obvious, but I’m curious as to the legal justification.) And what is to stop a juror from spewing that information after the fact anyway?

I done run for president.
Didn’t win, though.

If jurors could, for example, be sued by a defendant if they mistakenly convict, that might have a chilling effect on people willing to serve on a jury. In general, the thinking is that the jury’s purpose is best served if they’re able to deliberate without worrying that their words will be subject to later judicial review.

On the other hand, we have a strong interest in ensuring that the jury process is not infected with extra-judicial evidence, or with bias.

So the general evidentiary rule is that a juror is not competent to testify as to any matter or statement occurring during the course of the jury’s deliberations or to the effect or influence of that matter or statement upon any juror’s mind or emotions, or to the verdict.

However, a juror may testify on the question of whether extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jury’s attention or whether any outside influence was improperly brought to bear upon any juror.

These rules of evidence properly shield the jury’s deliberations, but allow (if necessary) inquiry into any improper influence that might have denied either side a fair trial.

What stops a juror from taking to the press afterwards? Well, in a trial juror’s case, the answer is “nothing”. The juror may not be compelled to talk about it, but certainly may choose to.

In a grand jury setting, the rules are different. The grand jury is supposed to be a shield between the citizenry and overzealous prosecutors. The grand jury proceeds in secret, so as to spare any embarrassment to those who are investigated but not indicted. A former grand juror is forbidden from discussing the details of the grand jury proceedings.

Hope that helps!

  • Rick

Thanks, Bricker.

So that makes sense then. I remember picking up a distinct sense of nervousness from the judge, like he was treading in dangerous waters. I admit to being fascinated by the whole thing and my part in it.

I done run for president.
Didn’t win, though.

The judge would, of course, limit the scope of his questions - but would be concerned about the scope of the answers that end up on the record, over which he has less control, other than his instructions to the witness (depends on the venue of course; your example seems to imply there was no prosecution or defense counsels to raise objections).

Don’t know what state you’re in, but there are differences from state to state as to how fully a jury’s deliberations are shielded from investigation. I understand that Texas is the state least protective of the “sanctity” of the jury room.

Texas Rule of Evidence 606(b) provides:

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on Texas law, not licensed to practice law in Texas, and am only quoting the material from the Texas Supreme Court website.

  • Rick