The People v. M. Robert Neulander
Factual Background: Neulander was convicted of murdering his wife and evidence tampering following a jury trial. He filed a C.P.L. §330.30 motion to set aside the verdict alleging that a trial juror had discussed the case, reviewed media accounts of the trial and lied about it, doctored her text messages, and deleted her internet browsing history. The trial court found the juror had engaged in misconduct but that it did not deny Neulander a fair trial. The Appellate Division reversed and ordered a new trial.
Issue before the Court: Whether the undisputed misconduct committed by the juror entitled Neulander to a new trial?
Held: As nothing is more basic to the criminal process than trial by an impartial jury, and a defendant is entitled to be tried by jurors who follow the court’s instructions, do not lie in sworn affidavits about their own misconduct and do not make efforts to conceal and erase their misconduct, the Court of Appeals affirmed the Appellate Division’s decision granting a new trial. Jurors must be expected “at the very minimum, to obey the admonishments of the trial court, report attempts by others trying to influence their oath to be objective and be forthcoming during court inquires into their conduct as a juror.”
CAL Observes: Seems like there is a lot of juror misconduct out there, but uncovering it is tricky and often fortuitous. Here, a fellow juror revealed the lying juror’s misconduct and the court ordered a forensic examination of her cell phone which revealed that during the trial she had accessed daily news coverage of the proceedings. Of note, the Court rejected the prosecution’s argument that the misconduct was outweighed by the substantial proof of guilt, observing “the right to a fair trial is self-standing and proof of guilt, however overwhelming, can never be permitted to negate this right.” Haven’t heard that in a while from this Court of Appeals.