United States v. Lanier et al., Case Nos. 16-6655/6657 (MOORE, Stranch, Donald).
The defendants-appellants were charged with federal fraud crimes. During jury deliberations, a juror contacted a state prosecutor who was a social acquaintance not involved with the federal prosecution to report a “problem” with the jury deliberations. The state prosecutor told the juror that they could not discuss the deliberations, and to report any problems to the district-court judge. No juror reported any problems to the court, but the state prosecutor informed the court of the conversation. After the jury returned a guilty verdict, the defense requested to interview the jurors and moved for a mistrial. The motion was denied, as were subsequent defense motions to interview jurors and for a new trial. After sentencing, the defendants timely appealed.
The district court has an obligation to investigate a colorable claim of external influence on the jury to determine whether any external influence occurred and, if so, whether it was prejudicial See Remmer v. United States, 347 U.S. 227, 229–30 (1954). The Sixth Circuit held that it was an abuse of discretion for the district court to decline to hold a Remmer hearing in this case because the case involved “intentional improper contacts or contacts that had an obvious potential for improperly influencing the jury.” The Court held that the fact that a juror instigated contact with a third party in order to discuss the case would be enough to require a Remmer hearing, but noted that there were additional facts that supported that conclusion in this case. The Court vacated the convictions and remanded for a Remmer hearing.