United States v. Williams (1978) – Case Brief Summary (Federal Court)

In United States v. Williams, 568 F.2d 464 (5th Cir. 1978), the defendant was being retried for the crime of depriving a man of his civil rights.

He had previously been convicted of the crime, but that conviction had been reversed on appeal. On the second day of the retrial, a television news report was broadcast indicating that appellant had previously been convicted of the charge, but that the conviction had been reversed because of "erroneous testimony."

Five of the jurors admitted knowing of the report, but only two jurors had seen it. Both stated that the news story would in no way influence their decision in the case.

The trial court subsequently instructed the jury to disregard everything not heard in court.

The Fifth Circuit concluded that the jurors' learning of the prior trial and its result was perhaps even more damaging than information about a defendant's prior criminal acts.

The Court noted that the assurances by the jurors that they could decide the case solely on the evidence adduced in court was not controlling.

The Williams court stated:

"The effect of exposure to extrajudicial reports on a juror's deliberations may be substantial even though it is not perceived by the juror himself or herself, and a juror's good faith cannot counter this effect. For that reason, we have recognized that such assurances from jurors may not be adequate to eliminate the harm done by a news report." (Williams, 568 F.2d at 471.)