Thursday, November 03, 2011

DUI Laws - Colorado Trial Jury Improperly Uses Dictionary

In People of Colorado v. Holt, --- P.3d ----, 2011 WL 4837640 (Colo.App.) the defendant was found guilty by a jury of vehicular eluding. After trial, it was learned that one of the jurors had snuck a definition of "elude" or "eluding" from a dictionary into the room for deliberations. Affidavits from jurors also revealed that one juror had claimed that, based on his personal experience, vehicular eluding was a minor traffic violation. The trial court granted a new trial. 

On appeal, as a matter of first impression, the appellate court found that the juror's statement during deliberations that the penalty for the offense was a “slap on the wrist,” did not constitute extraneous information. The trial court found that a juror claimed to have had some pre-existing personal experience with vehicular eluding and that he told the other jurors that the penalty for the offense was a “slap on the wrist.” The appeals court wrote as follows:

"Neither party cited, and we have not found, any reported Colorado opinion deciding whether a juror's statement regarding the severity of a charged offense constitutes extraneous information under CRE 606(b). However, jurors may apply their general knowledge and everyday life experience in deliberations. Kendrick, 252 P.3d at 1064. Therefore, testimony that jurors held discussions based on a juror's general knowledge or personal experiences cannot be offered to impeach a verdict under CRE 606(b). See id. We conclude that this general rule also applies to the general knowledge of, and previous personal experiences with, the criminal justice system of a lay juror, as opposed to an attorney or other person with professional or educational expertise in that field."

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"Here, the juror's statement was based upon his own personal knowledge, obtained before the trial began. Therefore, we conclude that the juror's statement was not extraneous information, but instead was part of the jury's internal discussions and cannot be offered as evidence to impeach the verdict..."

In reversing the finding that the use of the dictionary required a new trial, the appeals court stated:

"Here, the trial court found that a member of the jury brought a dictionary definition of “elude” or “eluding” into the jury room and shared it with several jurors. A juror's looking up of a dictionary definition of a crime of which the defendant has been charged is improper and affidavits concerning that fact are admissible under CRE 606(b). Wiser v. People, 732 P.3d 1139, 1141 (Colo.1987). The affidavits do not, however, disclose what definition the jurors considered, or whether the definition was inconsistent with the language of the vehicular eluding statute.FN2 Defendant bears the burden of proving that the extraneous information posed a reasonable possibility of prejudice to him. See Kendrick, 252 P.3d at 1064. By failing to provide the content of the definition, defendant failed to meet his burden of proving prejudice. The trial court, therefore, erred by concluding that the definition presented to the jury was prejudicial and ordering a new trial based on that conclusion."

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