December 30, 2020 Top Story

Evidence of Juror Dishonesty Requires Evidentiary Hearing

Courts must investigate potential bias of jurors who lied during voir dire

By John M. McNichols

When evidence emerges that jurors lied about their involvement in prior litigation, a court must conduct an evidentiary hearing to investigate whether juror bias requires a new trial. In Torres v. First Transit, Inc., the defendant discovered, after losing at trial, that two jurors untruthfully failed to disclose that they had previously been defendants in multiple debt-collection lawsuits, and on that basis sought an evidentiary hearing to assess whether the jurors harbored biases against corporate entities.

Two jurors lied during the pretrial screening

Two jurors lied during the pretrial screening

iStockphoto by Getty Images

The district court denied the motion, but the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that a court “must” hold an evidentiary hearing when presented with “incontrovertible” evidence of juror dishonesty. ABA Section of Litigation leaders view the decision as sound, but caution that requiring an evidentiary hearing for juror dishonesty on any subject, regardless of materiality, could invite post-trial challenges and upset the finality of verdicts.

Jurors’ Mistruth Leads to Hearing

Two plaintiffs sued a transportation company for negligence after a bus owned by the company struck their vehicle and injured them severely. The defendant company stipulated to liability, and the jury returned a verdict of $7.4 million in the damages-only trial.

After trial, the defendant learned that two members of the jury had lied during pretrial screening when asked about their prior experiences in civil lawsuits. Although both jurors had stated that they had not “ever been a party to lawsuit,” one juror had been sued in eight debt-collection cases, and the other, five. The defendant moved for a new trial, arguing that the jurors could not be impartial in a “David and Goliath” case involving individuals against a company. Alternatively, the defendant requested an evidentiary hearing to examine the jurors about whether their prior experiences had rendered them biased.

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