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Impartial Jury? You Only Get One Shot at a Remmer Hearing

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

In 2003, Marcus Middlebrook shot Nicole Bell in the face, ordered her to walk into the nearby river, and then drove away. Bell lived to tell the tale, and a jury convicted Middlebrook of three offenses the following year.

Middlebrook appealed, claiming that his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated because the jurors were exposed to extraneous influences. According to Middlebrook, the violation denied him the right to an impartial jury.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.

In this case, James Logan, juror number 7, presented the trial court with a letter stating that he believed the jurors were engaging in talks that may have been contrary to the court's instructions to not discuss the case with anyone, including associate jurors, prior to deliberations. Upon receiving the letter, the trial court judge questioned Logan, the juror accused of engaging in the inappropriate discussions, and one other juror.

During the individual interviews, Logan stated that the "colored" juror told other jurors that her family told her to "watch her back" and that the defendant had "quite a family." The other two jurors denied discussing any portions of the case with anyone, including family members.

The allegedly problematic juror stated that any comments her family made were in jest and related to her jury duty generally, not to the case.

The trial court offered Middlebrook's attorney the opportunity to question the entire panel. Defense counsel declined.

The court, along with the parties, agreed that Logan was the actual problematic juror and dismissed him from the jury. The court then determined that its investigation of the matter was sufficient.

In the Sixth Circuit, the defendant bears the burden of showing actual bias in a juror bias claim. In Remmer v. United States, the Supreme Court held that the trial court is not required to interview every juror. Rather, it must "determine the circumstances, the impact thereof upon the juror, and whether or not [they were] prejudicial."

Here, the trial court questioned the complaining juror and the juror accused of engaging in the inappropriate discussions. Middlebrook argued to the Sixth Circuit that the hearing was insufficient, but the appellate court noted that he declined to question other jurors when given the opportunity during the trial.

The Sixth Circuit said that Middlebrook couldn't demand a "proper" Remmer hearing when he had previously stated that he was satisfied with the trial court's course of action.

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