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Defense wins postconviction evidentiary hearing on impeachment of jury verdict

State v. Marwan Mahajni, 2017AP1184-CR, 6/27/19, District 1 (not recommended for publication); case activity (including briefs)

Mahajni moved for a new trial because, during deliberations in his case, the bailiff told the jury that they could not deadlock. They had to reach a unanimous verdict of guilty or not guilty. The circuit court denied Mahajni’s motion, so he moved for reconsideration and this time submitted 2 juror affidavits supporting his motion. He lost again. The court appeals here reverses and remands the case for an evidentiary hearing.

Generally, jurors are prohibited from testifying about statements made during their deliberations or their own deliberative processes. But they may testify about whether (1) extraneous information that (2) was improperly brought to their attention and (3) was potentially prejudicial. See Wis. Stat.  §906.06(2)State v. Eison, 194 Wis. 2d 160, 172, 177, 533 N.W.2d 738 (1995), Manke v. Physicians Ins. Co. of Wis., 2006 WI App 50, ¶19, 289 Wis. 2d 750, 712 N.W.2d 40.

In order to win an evidentiary hearing on his request for a new trial, Mahajni had to allege sufficient facts to establish the three requirements above but also two additional requirements that would warrant a new trial: (4) at least one juror in fact received the extraneous information, and (5) a reasonable probability that the information would have had a prejudicial effect upon a hypothetical average jury. Eison, 194 Wis. 2d at 177-178.

In Mahajni’s case, the State conceded that the two juror affidavits satisfied requirement (1) above.  The court of appeals held that the affidavits easily met requirement (2). The real dispute was over (3) the “potentially prejudicial” requirement. The court of appeals held that:

[I]nformation that the jury could not deadlock goes to the heart of the jury’s obligation to process all evidence and argument presented at trial and apply the jury instructions. The alleged extraneous information would have been the functional equivalent of a coercive jury instruction coming from the circuit court that conflicted with the court’s earlier, proper instructions that the jury had to be unanimous in its verdicts and convinced of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt as to any guilty verdict. Opinion, ¶26.

The court of appeals further held that the allegations that satisfied requirements (1) through (3)  likewise satisfied requirements (4) and (5). That is, at least one juror heard the extraneous information and there was a reasonable possibility that the information had a prejudicial effect. It therefore remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing. Opinion, ¶¶35-40.

For another defense win on the impeachment of a jury verdict see SCOTUS’s decision in Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado.

 

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