The court reviews for abuse of discretion the denial of a motion for an evidentiary hearing regarding allegations that a jury improperly considered extrinsic evidence. In exercising its discretion, the district court must be guided by the content of the allegations, including the seriousness of the alleged misconduct or bias, and the credibility of the source. Unless the court is able to determine without a hearing that the allegations are without credibility or that the allegations if true would not warrant a new trial, an evidentiary hearing must be held.
The defendant, Hortensia Navarro-Garcia, was convicted of offenses in connection with the importation of marijuana. The defendant claimed that she did not know of the presence of more than three hundred pounds of marijuana found in the trunk of her car. Following the verdict, Navarro-Garcia moved for a new trial and requested that the district court hold an evidentiary hearing on the question of jury misconduct. Attached to the motion was an affidavit from her attorney relaying the contents of a conversation that he allegedly had with the jury foreman after the verdict was reached. According to the affidavit, the jury foreman reported that an unidentified juror had conducted an experiment during the Labor Day weekend in which she had placed approximately three hundred pounds in the trunk of his car and then driven the car to determine whether the added weight would have a noticeable effect. The foreman stated that the juror discussed the experiment with the rest of the jury when the deliberations resumed. The foreman added that he had discussed with the jury the fact that when his children sit in the back seat of his car, the bottom scrapes his driveway although normally it does not. He speculated to the jury that if the added weight were situated in the trunk rather than in the back seat, the effect would be even more pronounced. The court denied defendant's motion, and she appealed.
Should the district court hold an evidentiary hearing based on the alleged misconduct of one of the juries involved in the case?
On review, the Court found that the jury did consider extrinsic evidence, and an evidentiary hearing would have been the only way to determine whether or not this evidence reasonably affected the jury verdict. The Court held that the district court abused its discretion by denying defendant's motion for an evidentiary hearing and remanded the case for hearing on the allegations of jury misconduct. The defendant would be entitled to a new trial as a matter of law if the evidence showed that there was reasonable possibility that the extrinsic evidence affected the verdict.