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Tanner v. US

    Brief Fact Summary. Petitioner No. 1, Conover (“petitioner No. 1”), used his position as Seminole Electric Cooperative’s procurement manager to help his friend, petitioner No. 2, Tanner (“petitioner No. 2”), obtain a bid for a construction project for which a loan had been guaranteed by an agency of the United States. After petitioner No. 1 and petitioner No. 2 were convicted, two jurors came forward and revealed rampant drug and alcohol use by the jury during the trial and deliberations.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Federal Rules of Evidence (“F.R.E.) Rule 606(b), prohibits the impeachment of a verdict with a juror’s testimony except where there is question as to whether any outside influence was brought to bear on any juror.

    Facts. Petitioner No. 1 used his position as Seminole Electric Cooperative’s (“Seminole”) procurement manager to help his friend, petitioner No. 2, obtain a bid for a construction project for which a loan had been guaranteed by an agency of the United States. Petitioner No. 1’s department had prepared and delivered two contracts favorable to petitioner No. 2’s company. At about the same time, petitioner No. 2 paid petitioner No. 1 about $30,000. Both were convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States and committing mail fraud.
    After petitioner No. 1 and petitioner No. 2 were convicted, two jurors came forward and revealed rampant drug and alcohol use by the jury during the trial and deliberations.

    Issue. Was the District Court required to hold an evidentiary hearing including juror testimony on juror drug and alcohol use during the trial?
    Did Seminole’s petitioner No. 2’s actions constitute a conspiracy to defraud the United States within the meaning of 18 USC Section: 371?

    Held. The District Court did not err in refusing to hold an evidentiary hearing at which jurors would testify on juror alcohol and drug use during the trial.
    The argument that Seminole, as a recipient of federal financial assistance and supervision must be treated as “the United States” under 18 USC Section: 371 is untenable.

    Dissent. If members of the jury were intoxicated by drugs and alcohol to the point of sleeping through material portions of the trial, the verdict must be set aside. F.R.E. Rule 606(b) is not applicable to juror testimony on matters unrelated to deliberations about the case. Even if F.R.E. Rule 606(b) was applicable, the testimony of juror intoxication should be admissible as “outside influence”.

    Discussion. There is firmly established common law rule that flatly prohibits admission of juror testimony to impeach a jury verdict except where there has been outside influence. F.R.E. Rule 606(b) codifies this common law rule. Full and frank discussion in the deliberation room, jurors’ willingness to return an unpopular verdict, and citizen’s belief in the layperson jury would all be undermined by post-verdict scrutinizing of juror conduct.
    Voluntarily ingested drugs and alcohol are no more of an external influence than illness or lack of sleep.

    Petitioner’s Sixth Amendment constitutional right to a fair trial in front of a fair and impartial jury is protected by procedurals safeguards such as voir dire, non-juror testimony, and juror observability by court personnel.

    A conspiracy to defraud the United States may be effected by the use of third parties, but merely being the recipient of federal financial assistance does not allow a private entity to be treated as “the United States” for purposes of 18 USC Section: 371, as the statute would have little meaning if applied so broadly.


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