In State v. Hurd, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, was asked to decide if a jury may correct a mistake in the reporting of its verdict, mere moments after leaving the courtroom, once the court had declared that the jury was “discharged.” Ryan Hurd was charged with aggravated OUI, among other things, as a result of a crash involving Hurd’s car, which tragically resulted in one person losing his life. During the trial, because there was a dispute regarding whether Hurd was driving the car himself or asked a second person to drive the car, the trial court instructed the jury that Hurd could be found liable of aggravated OUI either as a principal or as an accomplice. After deliberations, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty with respect to aggravated OUI. However, moments after leaving the courtroom, the court received a note from the jury indicating that they had voted on the additional “charge” of accomplice liability. Over Hurd’s objection, the court allowed the jury to resume “deliberations” on this issue, and the jury returned a verdict of guilty for “aggravated operating under the influence— accomplice liability.” Hurd appealed on the basis that the jury should have been prevented from impeaching its own verdict. The majority agreed with Hurd and held that Maine Rule of Evidence 606(b) prohibited the court from acting on the communication it received from the jury regarding the verdict after the court had discharged the jury. The majority seemed to adopt a bright-line test for “discharge,” which occurred when the court originally announced that the jury was discharged. The dissent, while acknowledging the public policy rationales against inquiring into a jury’s verdict, would have analyzed the issue of discharge through a “functional approach.” In this case, because the jury had not yet separated and was still immune from any outside influences that might have pressured it to change its verdict, the dissent argued, discharge had not occurred, and the jury should have been allowed to correct its verdict. This Note begins, in Part II, by discussing the origins of the policy concerns surrounding juror testimony on deliberations and verdicts and then traces these concerns through the adoption of Rule of Evidence 606(b) to present. Part III will discuss the facts of Hurd as well as the majority’s and minority’s analyses. Part IV will look at the timing of jury discharge and its relation to 606(b) in several other jurisdictions, will delve more deeply into the applicability of the public policy concerns to the specific case of Hurd, and will also discuss several other issues regarding the handling of the Hurd trial. Part V will conclude that the policy reasons behind 606(b) have been grossly distorted through the years and will urge the court to re-examine its rationale for prohibiting juror testimony.
William I. Olver,
Discharging State v. Hurd: Maine Rule of Evidence 606(B) Should Not Be Used to Prevent a Jury from Fully Reporting its Verdict,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol64/iss1/13