United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING DENYING MOTION FOR HEARING AND NEW
VANESSA L. BRYANT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is Defendant's Motion for Hearing and New
Trial. [Dkt. 82.] Defendant seeks an order vacating the jury
verdict of conviction rendered on December 12, 2017. [Dkts.
62, 66.] The Government has filed an Opposition to the
Motion. [Dkt. 83.] For the reasons set forth below,
Defendant's Motion is DENIED.
basis of Defendant's motion is alleged jury misconduct.
Defendant's girlfriend, Emelin Cartagena, attended the
trial on December 11, 2017. [Dkt. 73-1 (Cartagena Aff.) at
¶ 2; Dkt. 71 (Motion to Withdraw) (identifying Ms.
Cartagena as Defendant's girlfriend).] Upon exiting the
courthouse at approximately 4:00 pm, she “heard juror #
7 state to juror # 11 ‘I don't think he had any
involvement.'” [Cartagena Aff. at ¶ 4.] Ms.
Cartagena “immediately notified attorney Mr. William
Paetzold, Mr. Amir Shaque, and the defendant Donald Meeker of
the incident, who were all together at the time.”
Id. at ¶ 5.
response to the Court's inquiry, Defense Trial Counsel
did not notify the Court of the jurors' conversation at
the time “because of the equivocal nature of the
statement.” [Motion to Withdraw at 2.] Defense Trial
Counsel explained that “First, Ms. Cartagena did not
indicate that the juror had specifically referenced the
defendant, or the trial, by the alleged remark. Furthermore,
there was no context given to the alleged remark.”
December 18, 2017, Defense Trial Counsel met with Defendant
at Wyatt Detention Facility and Defendant instructed defense
counsel to move for a mistrial and/or a new trial on the
grounds of juror misconduct. Id. at 1. Defense Trial
Counsel moved to withdraw their representation of Defendant
thereafter because they believed there was no legal authority
to file Defendant's requested motion, and because that
disagreement caused a “break-down in the attorney
client relationship.” Id. at 2. After a
hearing, the Court granted the motion to withdraw and
appointed Attorney Michael Hasse to represent Defendant going
forward. [Dkt. 78.] Attorney Hasse filed the instant motion
on March 28, 2018. [Dkt. 82.]
Statement of Law
Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 provides that, upon a
defendant's motion, a district court “may vacate
any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice
so requires.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a). A court has
“broad discretion in dealing with” a motion for a
new trial. United States v. Feng Li, 630 Fed.Appx.
29, 32 (2d Cir. 2015) (quoting United States v.
Thai, 29 F.3d 785, 803 (2d Cir. 1994)).
evidence to the contrary, we presume that jurors remain true
to their oath and conscientiously observe the instructions
and admonitions of the court.” United States v.
Cox, 324 F.3d 77, 87 (2d Cir. 2003); see also United
States v. Nieves, 354 Fed.Appx. 547, 553 (2d
Cir. 2009) (noting that juries carry a presumption of
impartiality, finding no misconduct where a juror
“heard one juror suggest that a text message be sent to
an alternate juror, but . . . had no knowledge of whether
such a text message was, in fact, sent”). That
presumption is overcome, and a “mistrial or other
remedial measure is only required[, ] if both juror
misconduct and actual prejudice are found.” Feng
Li, 630 Fed.Appx. at 32; Cox, 324 F.3d at 86
(same). A court has a duty to investigate an allegation of
juror misconduct “only when the party alleging
misconduct makes an adequate showing . . . to overcome the
presumption of jury impartiality.” United States v.
Ianniello, 866 F.2d 540, 543 (2d Cir. 1989).
is a generally accepted principle of trial administration
that jurors must not engage in discussions of a case before
they have heard both the evidence and the court's legal
instructions and have begun formally deliberating as a
collective body.” Cox, 324 F.3d at 86 (finding
no juror misconduct where, during a break midway through
trial, a legal secretary employed by the government reported
that a juror told her the jurors wanted a conviction, but the
juror denied having discussed the case with other jurors or
having any preconceived notions about the verdict). Such
deliberations threaten the defendant's Sixth Amendment
right to a fair and impartial jury trial. Id.
(citing U.S. Const. amend. VI).
jurors engage in premature deliberation despite a court's
instruction to refrain from doing so, those premature
deliberations “may constitute juror misconduct.”
Id. Premature deliberations do not necessarily
constitute jury miscount. “[I]ntra-jury communications
pose a less serious threat to a defendant's right to an
impartial trial than do extra-jury influences.”
Id. (citing United States v. Bertoli, 40
F.3d 1384 (3d Cir. 1994)). While “extra-jury influences
create a presumption of prejudice that must be rebutted by
the government for the court to uphold the conviction, . . .
cases involving impermissible intra-jury contacts do not
create such a presumption.” Bertoli, 40 F.3d
at 1394 (citing United States v. Console, 13 F.3d
641, 686 (3d Cir. 1993)); see also Feng Li, 630
Fed.Appx. at 32 (finding no juror misconduct where the court
determined a juror's occasional comments to a fellow
juror were not inappropriate, explaining that “when the
alleged prejudice results from statements made by the jurors
themselves, and not from media publicity or other outside
influences, ” the trial court has especially broad
flexibility in handling the matter).
where evidence of juror misconduct exists, a new trial is not
appropriate absent “actual prejudice, ” which is
“generally the touchstone of entitlement to a new
trial.” United States v. Abrams, 137 F.3d 704,
709 (2d Cir. 1998) (finding that even if defendant had shown
that jurors improperly communicated before the close of the
case, a new trial was inappropriate because defendant
“could not possibly demonstrate actual
is not required to hold an evidentiary hearing or otherwise
further develop the evidentiary record before ruling on a
motion for new trial alleging juror misconduct. See,
e.g., United States v. Anderson, 689 Fed.Appx.
53, 55 (2d Cir. 2017) (finding no abuse of discretion where
district court found defendant's argument for juror
misconduct not credible on the briefing and did not hold a
hearing); United States v. Botti, 722 F.Supp.2d 188,
200 (D. Conn. 2010) (“The Second Circuit . . . set a
high bar for permitting post-verdict interviews of jurors,
and confer[s] upon this Court broad discretion in deciding
whether to permit them.”). In fact, in evaluating a
motion for new trial, “[p]ost-trial jury scrutiny is
disfavored because of its potential to undermine full and
frank discussion in the jury room, jurors' unwillingness
to return an unpopular verdict, and the community's trust
in a system that relies on the decisions of laypeople.”
United States v. Stewart, 433 F.3d 273, 302 (2d Cir.
jurors for potential instances of bias, misconduct or
extraneous influences after they have reached a verdict is
justified only when reasonable grounds for investigation
exist, in other words, where there is clear, strong,
substantial and incontrovertible evidence that a specific,
nonspeculative impropriety has occurred which could have
prejudiced the trial.” Stewart, 433 F.3d at
302-03. A court should refrain from inquiring further
“whenever it becomes apparent to the trial judge that
reasonable grounds to suspect prejudicial jury impropriety do
not exist.” Id. This disinclination to allow
post-verdict interviews of jurors stems from the concern that
“if post-verdict juror testimony could be used to
impeach a verdict, the result would be to make what was