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In considering whether extrinsic evidence warrants a mistrial, it is necessary either to show that prejudice resulted or that the statements were of such character as to raise a presumption of prejudice. Consideration of extrinsic evidence is jury misconduct and is sufficient to violate the constitutional right to trial by an impartial jury. During a jury interview, a court must determine whether the juror was imparting information from outside the trial and evidence, in which case a new trial may be warranted.
Defendant was charged and convicted of armed sexual battery and armed kidnapping. During closing argument, the defense argued that the sex between appellant and victim was consensual and further argued that the victim was not credible. After the jury began its deliberations and before the jury left for the day, the court instructed the jurors that they must communicate about the case only with one another and only when all jurors were present in the jury room. When the court reconvened the next day and before the jury resumed its deliberations, the state informed the trial court that an employee of the State Attorney's Office heard a conversation the previous day between two jurors regarding the fact that the defendant and the victim had sex. Defendant moved for a mistrial based on the employee's testimony that two jurors had a conversation after the trial court had instructed the jurors not to discuss the case outside the presence of other jurors. The trial court denied the motion for mistrial, finding that there had been no deliberations outside of the jury room. The jury found the defendant guilty. The present appeal followed.
Under the circumstances, did the trial court err in denying the defendant’s motion for mistrial?
The court held that a mistrial was not required where an employee of the State's Attorney's Office heard one or two jurors talk about the case after the jurors were instructed not to discuss the case outside the presence of other jurors as the employee did not know whether one or both jurors made statements. The court noted that an allegation that one juror attempted to prematurely discuss the case did not warrant jury interviews because there was no evidence of any agreement among the other jurors to disregard their oaths and ignore the law, nor did it imply that the jury was influenced by external sources or improper material. However, where there was an allegation that multiple jurors prematurely discussed the pending case together and their opinions as to a potential verdict, there would be sufficient evidence to require questioning of the entire jury panel. In this case, however, even if juror interviews were required, there was no prejudice since the employee alleged that a juror or two jurors agreed that defendant and the victim had sex; defendant conceded that he and the victim had sex; and no extrinsic information or evidence was imparted or considered. The judgment was affirmed.