In a decision released on Friday, September 5, 2008, the Alabama Supreme Court reaffirmed that juror misconduct claims may be raised for the first time in a Rule 32 petition.
Roy Burgess was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole for a crime committed when he was 16 years old. EJI represents Mr. Burgess and filed a Rule 32 petition for postconviction relief on his behalf, alleging among other claims that members of his jury did not accurately answer questions during voir dire.
The trial judge dismissed this claim as procedurally barred and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed, holding that Mr. Burgess’s claim that jurors had not disclosed important information during jury selection was precluded because it could have been raised at trial or on direct appeal.
EJI lawyers filed a petition in the Alabama Supreme Court, which reversed the lower court. The state supreme court ruled that Mr. Burgess could not have reasonablydiscovered the juror misconduct in time to raise the claim in a motion for new trial or on appeal because nothing happened at trial could have alerted counsel that misconduct had occurred.
The Alabama Supreme Court wrote: “It is unreasonable to hold that a defendant must uncover any and all juror misconduct in the form of inaccurate responses to voir dire examination in time to raise such claims in a motion for a new trial or on appeal.”
Requiring a defendant to raise such claims, particularly where he has no reason to suspect that any jurors answered questions inaccurately, prior to filing posttrial motions “places an impracticable burden on defendants.”
It reversed and remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing on the merits of Mr. Burgess’s juror misconduct claims.