United States v. Evanston: no re-arguing during jury delibrations

Jul 18, 2011

In U.S. v. Evanston, the Ninth Circuit Court vacated a district court’s judgment because it allowed attorneys on both sides to re-address arguments after the jury declared its second deadlock. Calvin Evanston was charged with assault on his live-in girlfriend, leaving her with permanent damages on her face. The jury was unsure about the witness’s credibility and how the victim’s injuries were caused. Despite the defense’s objection to this order and two jury deadlocks, the judge gave both sides the opportunity to reargue the issues that were uncertain to the jury. Shortly after, the jury deliberated and reached a guilty verdict.

The court of appeals found the order for additional arguments as an interference with the jury’s role as the sole fact-finder. First, the jury’s deliberative secrecy was violated when they revealed to the judge that they were inconclusive about two particular issues. Secondly, additional arguments from both sides along with the judge insisting to continue after a second deadlock raised speculation of a coerced verdict.

The district court could have explored other options to overcome the two deadlocks without coming into conflict with the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and Ninth Circuit model jury instructions. For instance, rereading the original jury instructions or allowing the jury to review the witness’s testimony would have complied with the procedural rules.

The Ninth Circuit found that the district court allowed the attorneys to address and reargue factual concerns expressed by the jury, causing prejudicial error in Evanston’s case. This gave cause for the court of appeals to vacate Evanston’s conviction and remand the action for a new trial.

The case is: United States v. Evanston (9th Cir. July 5, 2011) 10-10159.