Juror's Online Research Results in Mistrial

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By Tera Brostoff

Sept. 26 — “Manifest necessity” existed to declare a mistrial based on a juror's conducting internet research and sharing the results with fellow jurors, the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii affirmed Sept. 23 ( Slavick v. Sequeira, 2016 BL 314700, D. Haw., No. 15-00424 DKW-KJM, 9/23/16 ).

The issue arose in the context of an appeal alleging double jeopardy and speedy trial violations. Judge Derrick K. Watson found that the trial court didn't “falsify” reasons for granting the mistrial. While the jurors interviewed after the information was disseminated claimed the information wouldn't impact their verdict, the court decided otherwise.

The case illustrates why courts take outside research by jurors seriously. Independent online research is increasingly troubling because of how it can affect decision-making and the justice process, and some lawmakers are even trying to find ways to discourage the behavior by penalizing offending jurors. (14 DDEE 280, 6/5/14) (16 DDEE 195, 4/28/16).

Defendant Evades Law Enforcement

In October 2013, Christopher Slavick arrived at the Honolulu airport from Thailand, and was arrested for promoting a harmful drug after law enforcement found steroids in his luggage. He was released and indicted, but it took more than six years to locate Slavick after the indictment.

His first trial was in October 2012 and ended in mistrial because of the juror misconduct.

During deliberations, the trial court received a jury note stating a juror had conducted independent online research with respect to the steroids, and that the juror had shared the information with the jury, against court instruction.

According to the note, a poll of the jury indicated that the new information didn't impact their current decision. However, interviews with several jurors and the foreperson led the court to declare a mistrial based on “manifest necessity.”

A second trial started in February 2014 and resulted in Slavick's conviction.

Slavick appealed on double jeopardy and speedy trial grounds. The appellate court affirmed the conviction and Slavick then petitioned for writ of habeas corpus in the District of Hawaii.

Double Jeopardy and Mistrial

The court explained that when a trial is terminated without the defendant's consent, the test for lifting the “double jeopardy bar” to a second trial is the “manifest necessity” standard.

According to Slavick, the trial court “plainly falsified reasons” for the mistrial. But the court wasn't swayed by this argument.

The court noted that the foreperson said he tried not to listen to the internet research results, but that other jurors did have follow-up questions and a discussion about the information occurred.

“[T]hese comments demonstrate that, after the jury had been exposed to the extraneous information, ‘the interests of public justice would not be served by a continuation of the [trial] proceedings[,],' and that manifest necessity existed to declare a mistrial,” the court said. “Because the mistrial was supported by a valid determination of manifest necessity, the second trial that resulted in Slavick's conviction did not violate the Double Jeopardy clause.”

The court also addressed the speedy trial issue, explaining that determining whether the Sixth Amendment right has been violated requires the court to balance several factors, including the length and reason for delay.

The court found that the six-year wait until trial required an inquiry into the reason for such a delay. However, the court found the state didn't act negligently in pursing Slavick. They checked several locations for him, conducted a criminal history database search for him and spoke with Customs to attempt to find Slavick.

Slavick represented himself.

The Prosecuting Attorney in Honolulu, Hawaii, represented the state.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tera Brostoff in Washington at tbrostoff@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Carol Eoannou at ceoannou@bna.com

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