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Name: People v. Ault
Case #: S119948
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 08/16/2004

When a criminal defendant appeals the denial of his or her motion for a new trial on the grounds of juror misconduct, the appellate court must independently review, as a question of law and fact, the trial court’s conclusion that no prejudice arose from the conduct. The California Supreme Court granted review in this case to determine the proper standard of review where the trial court granted a motion for new trial for prejudicial misconduct, and the prosecutor appeals, disputing only the trial court’s determination that the misconduct was prejudicial. The Supreme Court here affirmed the Court of Appeal’s judgment that the correct standard is abuse of discretion, with deference to the trial court’s assessment of prejudice. The decision is not subject to independent or de novo review on appeal. Here, there was no dispute that misconduct occurred when a juror received information from an outside source and shared it with other jurors in order to bolster the credibility of a prosecution witness. However, the trial court’s ruling that the misconduct was not prejudicial was not an abuse of discretion, and therefore the Court declined to second-guess it. J. Brown dissented, holding that the same standard of review should apply as when a motion for new trial is denied.