WA Legal Roundup: Division III
Mr. Fry punched his wife in the face and was charged with Second Degree Assault. The trial court instructed the jury on Second Degree Assault and the lesser-included offense of Third Degree Assault. The court listed the elements of Third Degree Assault as follows:
1) Mr. Fry caused Ms. Fry bodily harm; (2) "the bodily harm was accompanied by substantial pain that extended for a period of time sufficient to cause considerable suffering"; and (3) Mr. Fry acted with criminal negligence.
The jury convicted Fry of Third Degree Assault. When the prosecutor and the defense lawyer went to talk to the jury members after the trial, the prosecutor noticed that one of the jurors had a dictionary. The bailiff told the prosecutor that the juror said the jury used the dictionary to look up the word "substantial." Fry moved for new trial based on juror misconduct.
The trial court held a hearing and the juror testified that she looked up the word “substantial” at home and brought the dictionary to deliberations, but did not share the definition or the dictionary with the rest of the jury until after the verdict. The juror also stated that her looking up the word had little to do with her verdict. The court concluded that the juror's conduct did not influence the verdict and denied Mr. Fry's motion for a new trial. Fry appealed.
A defendant is entitled to a new trial if a juror's use of extraneous evidence could influence the verdict and prejudice the defendant. Boling, 131 Wn. App. at 332. But a trial court properly denies a motion for a new trial if "it is satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the extrinsic evidence did not contribute to the verdict." Id. at 333.
It is presumed that juror misconduct is prejudicial, but the presumption may be overcome by an adequate showing that the misconduct did not affect the deliberations. The question of prejudice turns on whether the conduct had an effect on the outcome. Ah! Was there an affect on the effect? Where’s that dictionary?!
Division III found there was no showing of prejudice, but noted that if this juror went so far as to bring a dictionary to the jury room, she should be watched closely while playing Scrabble.