Course of Action to Be Taken by the Court in Cases of Allegation of Juror Misconduct Based on Racial Bias
In State v. Santiago, 245 Conn. 301, 715 A.2d 1 (Conn. 1998), the Connecticut Supreme Court concluded that in all future cases in which a defendant alleges that a juror has made racial epithets, the trial court should conduct, at a minimum, "an extensive inquiry of the person reporting the conduct, to include the context of the remarks, an interview with any persons likely to have been a witness to the alleged conduct, and the juror alleged to have made the remarks." Id. at 22.
In a separate opinion, Chief Justice Callahan expressed the following concerns:
Postconviction allegations of juror misconduct require the court to strike a delicate balance between the competing interests of the state and the defendant.
Obviously, allegations of juror misconduct must be taken seriously at any stage of the proceedings and inquiry is always warranted. State v. Brown, 235 Conn. 502, 668 A.2d 1288, 1305 (Conn. 1995). "After a jury verdict has been accepted, however other state interests emerge that favor proceedings limited in form and scope." Id.
Specifically, we have identified those compelling state interests to include preserving the "finality of judgments . . . and in protecting the privacy and integrity of jury deliberations, preventing juror harassment and maintaining public confidence in the jury system." Id.
Certainly, there are circumstances in which these state interests must give way to the countervailing interest of the defendant.
A defendant's right to a fair trial, an interest shared by the state, is one such interest.
Our rule set forth in Brown, however, adequately addressed this concern.
In Brown, we concluded that "the more obviously serious and credible the allegations, the more extensive an inquiry is required; frivolous or incredible allegations may be disposed of summarily." Id.
An allegation of racial bias is perhaps the most serious of juror misconduct allegations.
Pursuant to the rule adopted in Brown, the trial court always will be obliged to conduct an inquiry.
Moreover, in light of the seriousness of the allegation, the court must err on the side of caution in the thoroughness of the inquiry.
Once the allegation is found to be frivolous or incredible, however, there is no compelling reason to engage in a full evidentiary hearing.
In many cases alleging juror misconduct based on racial bias, it would be reasonable to conclude that the trial court abused its discretion if it failed to inquire of the accused juror or others who might have heard the alleged racist remarks.
Every case is unique, however, and must be viewed individually.
It is for this reason that, in Brown, we left the form and scope of the inquiry to the discretion of the trial court.
In light of all of the evidence presented in this case, the trial court's inquiry was adequate because the court found the source of the allegations unbelievable and thus did not abuse its discretion in halting the inquiry when it did.
The majority opinion discounts any consideration of factors that weigh in favor of the state, and instead tips the balance wholly in favor of the defendant, irrespective of the unbelievability of the allegations or the harm that might result from an unnecessary recall of the jurors.
There is no doubt that when racism rears its ugly head, it must be dealt with swiftly and surely to avoid its invidious effect.
It is equally true, however, that when allegations of racism are found to be false and unfounded after an inquiry, the trial court should deal with them forthwith, lest they dilute the significance of legitimate allegations.
Moreover, the finality of judgments and the legitimate expectation of jurors that their deliberations will be private and that they will not unjustly be made to defend against baseless charges or have their integrity impugned, weigh in favor of not continuing the investigation when the source of the allegation is completely discredited by the trier of fact.
To give credence to the juror's meritless allegations in this case by establishing a per se rule that arbitrarily mandates a full evidentiary inquiry into the most baseless of assertions demeans, rather than enhances, our notions of justice. Id. at 26-27