Tanner v. United States Case Brief

Summary of Tanner v. United States, 483 U.S. 107 (1987) [p. 7]

Facts: Defendants Tanner and Conover were convicted on various counts of mail fraud. The day before ?’s were to be sentences, Tanner filed a motion, in which Conover joined, seeking continuance of the sentencing date, permission to interview jurors, an evidentiary hearing, and a new trial. According to ?s, Tanner’s attorney had received information that several of the jurors consumed alcohol during the lunch breaks during trial. The District Court continued the sentencing date, but then concluded the testimony pertaining to drinking was irrelevant. While the appeal was pending, ?s filed another motion asserting further juror misconduct. According to Juror, Daniel Hardy, 7 jurors drank alcohol during lunch breaks, 4 jurors consumed a pitcher to three pitchers, other jurors had mixed drinks, some jurors smoke marijuana, another took drug paraphernalia into the courthouse, and one fell asleep during the trial.

Procedural History: The District Court denied the motion for a new trial stating the motions contain supplemental allegations and the 11th Circuit affirmed.

Issue: Whether an evidentiary hearing is necessary to consider alcohol and drug use during the ?’s trial pursuant to Rule 606(b)?

Holding: No

Arguments: Petitioners/?s argue that under Rule 606(b), juror testimony about juror’s ingestion of drugs and alcohol is not barred, contrary to the District Court and 11th Cir rulings. Further, ?s assert that under the 6th Amend they have a right to a trial by a competent jury.

Analysis: (O’Connor)

  • Under Common Law states flatly prohibit the admission of juror testimony to impeach a verdict.
    • Exceptions to common law were recognized only in situations in which an “extraneous influence."
  • Lower courts use an external/internal distinction to identify those instances in which juror testimony impeaching a verdict would be admissible. The distinction was based on the nature of the allegation. Courts have held that allegations of physical or mental incompetence are internal therefore not admissible.
    • Courts have stated that internal evidence is not admissible.
  • The Supreme Court held that although post-verdict investigation into juror misconduct would sometimes lead to the invalidation of a verdict, this is not the instance. Here, O’Connor states that the petitioners argued that the substance abuse constitutes an improper “outside influence," about which jurors may testify under Federal Rule of Evi 606(b). However, O’Connor says this is too far. Although ingestion of alcohol/drugs etc is wrong, it is no more than an outside influence such as a virus, poorly prepared food, or lack of sleep.

Dissent: (Marshall)

  • Every criminal defendant has a constitutional right to be tried by competent jurors. If the members of the jury were drinking and using drugs to the point of sleeping through proceedings, the verdict in the case should be set aside.
  • Rule 606(b) is irrelevant b/c it does not relate to matters unrelated to jury deliberations. It only renders jurors incompetent as to three subject: (1) any “matter or statement" occurring during deliberations; (2) the “effect" of anything upon the “mind or emotions" of any juror as it relates to his or her “assent to or dissent from the verdict"; and (3) the “mental processes" of the juror in connection with his “assent to or dissent from the verdict."
  • As to O’Connor’s comment about food, virus, etc, Marshall says this is a matter of line drawing; narcotics are just different.
  • Lastly, he states that all the ?s want is to ensure the jury was competent, that is a right they deserve and should be upheld.


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