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Name: People v. Vigil
Case #: C061065
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 3 DCA
Opinion Date: 01/24/2011

A motion for new trial based on juror misconduct requires a three-part inquiry: is the evidence of misconduct admissible; if so, do the facts establish misconduct; and if they do, is the misconduct prejudicial. Appellant was convicted of shooting at an occupied dwelling, based on accomplice liability. Following the trial, defense counsel asked juror #2, a college professor, how the jury was able to convict on this count when they had acquitted defendant of a first shooting. The juror responded that he had conducted an experiment outside the jury room which convinced him of defendant’s guilt. Two other jurors then provided affidavits stating that juror #2 informed the rest of the jury of the results of the experiment toward the end of deliberations when the jurors were unable to reach an unanimous verdict. Shortly thereafter they did. At a motion for new trial, the prosecution provided no evidence to rebut the two affidavits and the trial court found the behavior to be misconduct, but that it was not prejudicial. The appellate court reversed. At a motion for new trial based on juror misconduct the court must determine if the evidence is admissible and if the facts establish misconduct. Here, the court accepted the truth of the affidavits. On review, the appellate court agreed with the trial court that the experiment constituted misconduct as the conduct created new evidence which defendant had no opportunity to question or rebut. However, it disagreed with the trial court’s finding that the misconduct was not prejudicial. Jury misconduct raises a presumption of prejudice which was not dispelled by the prosecution in this case. The record revealed that the jury struggled with appellant’s culpability as an accomplice. As such, the experiment could well have been a significant factor in convincing it of appellant’s guilt. Although the trial court opined that the evidence against appellant was overwhelming, whether the court was correct was not the issue. Where the jury is exposed to improper outside influences, the test is not the strength of the prosecution’s case, but whether the jury’s impartiality has been compromised. Finding the juror misconduct to be prejudicial in this case, the appellate court ordered the conviction reversed and directed the trial court to enter a new order granting the new trial motion.