State v. Pike
In State v. Pike, 712 P.2d 277 (Utah 1985), the Court considered whether the contact between one of the State's witnesses and a juror during a recess in a criminal trial deprived the defendant of his right to an impartial jury and held that when such a contact is "more than incidental, the burden is on the prosecution to prove that the unauthorized contact did not influence the juror." Id. at 279-80.
In Pike, the defendant, after being convicted in a jury trial, requested a new trial on the basis that he was unfairly prejudiced when three jurors had a brief conversation with a key State witness during a recess in the trial. 712 P.2d at 279.
The Court held that "anything more than the most incidental contact during the trial between witnesses and jurors casts doubt upon the impartiality of the jury and at best gives the appearance of the absence of impartiality." Id. at 279-80.
The Court reiterated our rule that such contact "raises a rebuttable presumption of prejudice," which places the burden upon "the prosecution to prove that the unauthorized contact did not influence the juror." Id. at 280.
The Court advanced two reasons for our holding in Pike. First, the rebuttable presumption is necessary because of "the inherent difficulty in proving how or whether a juror has in fact been influenced by conversing with a participant in the trial." Id.
Such difficulty stems in part from the fact that "prejudice may well exist even though it is not provable and even though a person who [has] been tainted may not, himself, be able to recognize that fact. " Id.
Second, the Court reasoned that contact between jurors and witnesses creates an "appearance of impropriety" that has a "deleterious effect upon the judicial process." Id.
The Court noted that "mingling of jurors and prominent witnesses could not be condoned because 'it is probable that a doubt must and will continue to exist in the mind of the losing party and that of his friends as to whether or not he had a fair trial.'" Id.
Based on the foregoing reasons, the Court held that the State must prove that the juror was not influenced by an unauthorized encounter with one of the parties. Pike, 712 P.2d at 280. A mere showing that the juror denied being influenced by the encounter was not enough. Id. at 281.