A federal appeals court has denied actor Wesley Snipes’s bid for a new trial after he was convicted in 2008 of three misdemeanor counts of failing to file a tax return.
Snipes began serving his three-year sentence last December, but he has been appealing his conviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied a bid to hear his appeal in June (see Supreme Court Rejects Wesley Snipes Appeal).
In the court ruling Tuesday, the judges rejected Snipes’s appeal of the denial of his motion for a new trial at the lower court level and related motions to interview the jurors who convicted him.
“In his new-trial motion, Snipes asserted that defense counsel received two emails from former jurors in his case that reported juror misconduct,” wrote the appeals court judges. “Specifically, one of the former jurors stated that three members of the jury acknowledged, during deliberations, that they had determined that Snipes was guilty before the trial began. That former juror further explained that in order to reach a unanimous verdict, the jurors compromised by convicting Snipes on three of the lesser counts, believing that he would not receive jail time. The second former juror referenced the allegations in the other juror’s email, and indicated that he or she would be willing to provide further information. Snipes sought leave from the court to interview his former jurors concerning the allegations in the emails, arguing that they undermined his convictions. The court ultimately denied Snipes’s new-trial and juror-interview motions, finding that the allegations in the emails were inadmissible under Rule 606(b) of the Federal Rules of Evidence. The court also noted that there were a number of reasons to question the veracity of the emails’ allegations, including the fact that the former jurors waited more than two years to bring the misconduct to light.”
In his motion for an appeal, the Blade actor’s attorneys moved for reconsideration of the district court’s decision, and the district court denied that motion as well.
In his appeal, Snipes argued that the district court abused its discretion in denying his motions and raised two arguments as to why the emails should be admissible under the rule. Snipes contended that the emails fell outside the rule’s general exclusion of evidence concerning the jury’s deliberative process, because they were offered to show that jurors committed perjury during the voir dire process by falsely indicating that they accepted the presumption of innocence.
In addition, Snipes’ attorneys contended that even if the emails fell within the rule’s exclusionary provision, they were nevertheless admissible under the enumerated exceptions for evidence concerning improper outside influence, or evidence about the jury’s use of extraneous information.
However, the appeals court rejected both arguments, noting that district courts are not obligated to investigate allegations of juror misconduct without “clear, strong, substantial and incontrovertible evidence” that the jury committed an impropriety that might undermine the verdict.
The appeals court also found that the district court correctly concluded that the allegations in Snipes’s emails were inadmissible, and it was therefore unable to consider them in ruling on his motions for a new trial and juror interviews. It said the emails fell within Rule 606(b)’s general exclusionary provision, because that provision covers “any matter or statement occurring during the course of the jury’s deliberations.” In addition, the emails did not fall within the rule’s exceptions, because they did not allege outside influence, reliance on extraneous information, or a mistake in filling out the verdict form.
“Moreover, even if the allegations had been admissible, the district court indicated that they did not constitute clear, strong, substantial and incontrovertible evidence of the type of misconduct that would warrant a new trial,” said the appeals court. “Accordingly, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Snipes’s motions.”
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