Law School Case Brief
Warger v. Shauers - 135 S. Ct. 521 (2014)
For purposes of Fed. R. Evid. 606(b)(2)(A), generally speaking, information is deemed “extraneous” if it derives from a source “external” to the jury. “External” matters include publicity and information related specifically to the case the jurors are meant to decide, while “internal” matters include the general body of experiences that jurors are understood to bring with them to the jury room.
Petitioner Gregory Warger was riding his motorcycle on a highway outside Rapid City, South Dakota, when a truck driven by respondent Randy Shauers struck him from behind. Warger claims he was stopped at the time of the accident, while Shauers claims that Warger suddenly pulled out in front of him. Regardless of the cause of the accident, no one disputes its tragic result: Warger sustained serious injuries that ultimately required the amputation of his left leg. Warger sued Shauers for negligence in Federal District Court. During jury selection, counsel for both parties conducted lengthy voir dire of the prospective jurors. Warger’s counsel asked whether any jurors would be unable to award damages for pain and suffering or for future medical expenses, or whether there was any juror who thought, “I don’t think I could be a fair and impartial juror on this kind of case.” Prospective juror Regina Whipple, who was later selected as the jury foreperson, answered no to each of these questions. Trial commenced, and the jury ultimately returned a verdict in favor of Shauers. Shortly thereafter, one of the jurors contacted Warger’s counsel to express concern over juror Whipple’s conduct. The complaining juror subsequently signed an affidavit claiming that Whipple had spoken during deliberations about “a motor vehicle collision in which her daughter was at fault for the collision and a man died,” and had “related that if her daughter had been sued, it would have ruined her life.” Relying on this affidavit, Warger moved for a new trial. He contended that Whipple had deliberately lied during voir dire about her impartiality and ability to award damages.
Is the affidavit Warger sought to introduce admissible?
The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit was affirmed. The affidavit Warger sought to introduce was not admissible under Rule 606(b)(2)(A)’s exception for evidence as to whether “extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jury’s attention.” Fed. R. Evid. 606(b) precluded admission of an affidavit regarding what a juror said during deliberations to demonstrate that the juror was dishonest during voir dire, as a motion for a new trial on the ground of voir dire dishonesty plainly entailed an inquiry into the validity of the verdict; It was not necessary in order to avoid constitutional concerns to allow use of evidence of deliberations to show that a juror lied during voir dire, as the canon of constitutional avoidance did not apply in the absence of ambiguity. Also, Rule 606(b) did not violate the right to an impartial jury under such circumstances; The affidavit was not admissible under Rule 606(b)(2)(A) because the juror's statement was not "extraneous" even if she would have been stricken from the jury had she made the disclosure during voir dire.
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