Landmark California Cases on Jury Misconduct

A trial court engages in a three-step inquiry when a motion for new trial is brought on the basis of alleged jury misconduct. The court's inquiry is: (1) whether the affidavits in support of the motion are admissible under Evidence Code section 1150; (2) assuming such admissibility, whether the facts show misconduct; and (3) if misconduct is found, whether it was prejudicial. (Whitlock v. Foster Wheeler, LLC (2008) 160 Cal.App.4th 149, 160.) Jury misconduct, which, if found prejudicial, warrants the granting of a new trial motion, appears in several general forms. Such misconduct may occur from a showing of a juror's bias that was concealed from the parties and the court during voir dire (Wiley v. Southern Pacific Transportation Co. (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 177, 185-186); a juror's inattentiveness during the presentation of evidence (Hasson v. Ford Motor Co. (1982) 32 Cal.3d 388, 411 (Hasson)); improper communications by a juror with outsiders, such as a juror performing an experiment with a nonjuror and reporting the results during deliberations (Bell v. State of California (1998) 63 Cal.App.4th 919, 930-931); jurors' arriving at a verdict by means of chance or quotient (Chronakis v. Windsor (1993) 14 Cal.App.4th 1058, 1064; 657, subd. (2)); or a juror's receipt of evidence outside of trial and communication of it to other jurors, such as a juror's performance of independent investigation (Lankster v. Alpha Beta Co. (1993) 15 Cal.App.4th 678, 682). "Irregularity in the proceedings of the jury" is a standard that has not been defined by the courts and is ambiguous due to its overlap with the alternative basis for new trial, jury misconduct; however, the irregularity ground is generally applied where there is an issue concerning a juror's competency or giving of false answers in voir dire. (See 8 Witkin, Cal. Procedure (5th ed. 2008) Attack on Judgment in Trial Court, 27, pp. 610-611.) Evidence Code section 1150 describes the use of, and limitations placed upon, evidence to impeach a jury's verdict. The statute provides: "Upon an inquiry as to the validity of a verdict, any otherwise admissible evidence may be received as to statements made, or conduct, conditions, or events occurring, either within or without the jury room, of such a character as is likely to have influenced the verdict improperly. No evidence is admissible to show the effect of such statement, conduct, condition, or event upon a juror either in influencing him to assent to or dissent from the verdict or concerning the mental processes by which it was determined." (Evid. Code, 1150, subd. (a).) As explained by the high court, "With narrow exceptions, evidence that the internal thought processes of one or more jurors were biased is not admissible to impeach a verdict. The jury's impartiality may be challenged by evidence of 'statements made, or conduct, conditions, or events occurring, either within or without the jury room, of such a character as is likely to have influenced the verdict improperly,' but 'no evidence is admissible to show the actual effect of such statement, conduct, condition, or event upon a juror . . . or concerning the mental processes by which the verdict was determined.' (Evid. Code, 1150, subd. (a), see People v. Hutchinson (1969) 71 Cal.2d 342, 349-350 (Hutchinson).) Thus, where a verdict is attacked for juror taint, the focus is on whether there is any overt event or circumstance, 'open to corroboration by sight, hearing, and the other senses' (Hutchinson, supra, 71 Cal.2d at p. 350), which suggests a likelihood that one or more members of the jury were influenced by improper bias." (In re Hamilton (1999) 20 Cal.4th 273, 294, (Hamilton).) This rule "serves a number of important policy goals: It excludes unreliable proof of jurors' thought processes and thereby preserves the stability of verdicts. It deters the harassment of jurors by losing counsel eager to discover defects in the jurors' attentive and deliberative mental processes. It reduces the risk of postverdict jury tampering. Finally, it assures the privacy of jury deliberations by foreclosing intrusive inquiry into the sanctity of jurors' thought processes." (Hasson, supra, 32 Cal.3d at p. 414.) And Justice Mosk explained the rationale for excluding evidence of jurors' thought processes: "To require trial courts to review declarations reciting purported thought processes of jurors is certain to produce a deleterious effect upon the finality of jury verdicts. I foresee the likelihood of all unsuccessful litigants, plaintiffs and defendants alike, canvassing jurors hereafter as a matter of policy, in the fond hope of discovering some forbidden element that may have inadvertently crept into jury discussions. Motions thereafter made on the basis of such discovery will seriously impede the expeditious administration of justice." (Krouse v. Graham (1977) 19 Cal.3d 59, 85 (conc. & dis. opn. of Mosk, J.).) In sum, anew trial may be granted by the trial court where there is, inter alia, "irregularity in the proceedings of the . . . jury" ( 657, subd. (1)), or "misconduct of the jury" ( 657, subd. (2)), where the error materially affects the rights of the moving party. "A trial judge is accorded a wide discretion in ruling on a motion for new trial and . . . the exercise of this discretion is given great deference on appeal. " (City of Los Angeles v. Decker (1977) 18 Cal.3d 860, 871-872.) A party moving for new trial on the ground of jury misconduct bears the burden of establishing such misconduct. (Donovan v. Poway Unified School Dist. (2008) 167 Cal.App.4th 567, 625.) The appellate court must examine the entire record to determine independently whether the misconduct, if it in fact occurred, prevented a fair trial to the moving party. (Iwekaogwu v. City of Los Angeles (1999) 75 Cal.App.4th 803, 818.) Although prejudice will be presumed where there has been jury misconduct, the presumption may be rebutted by evidence that no prejudice resulted. (Ibid.)