Court allows jurors to use own expertise
A divided Nevada Supreme Court on Friday overturned a Reno rape conviction because of juror misconduct.
But all seven members of the court agreed the case was a good opportunity to make it clear jurors can’t be prohibited from bringing their personal expertise into the discussion of guilt or innocence.
Adam Ray Meyer was convicted of rape in October 1999 and sentenced to at least 10 years in prison.
Meyer appealed charging misconduct by a juror who looked up the side effects of Accutane – a drug the woman was using – and discussing her findings with the rest of the jury. Part of the case hinged on whether the drug could have made the victim bruise easily – causing it to appear as though she had been beaten when she hadn’t.
His lawyers also objected to statements by a juror who is a nurse and said bumps on the victim’s head appeared similar to those caused by pulling the hair.
The main opinion was signed only by Chief Justice Deborah Agosti who agreed the juror who looked up the side effects of Accutane in a medical reference book violated the rules seriously enough to warrant a new trial. Jurors are forbidden from doing independent research on a case.
Justices Bob Rose and Myron Leavitt agreed with her on that point but raised what they said was an even more serious issue – that the final hold-out juror was convinced to convict Meyer after being told by another juror not to worry about convicting Meyer “because the punishment for sexual assault was only a couple of years.”
They said that information is “patently false” because sexual assault is a non-probationable offense carrying a sentence of 10 years to life.
“Upon receiving this information, the hold-out juror changed her mind, resulting in a guilty verdict of sexual assault,” they wrote.
Rose and Leavitt said that justifies a new trial in their eyes.
Justice Bill Maupin also agreed a new trial is justified. He wrote a separate opinion only to emphasize his support for the idea that jurors must be allowed to rely on their individual knowledge and expertise during deliberations on a case. He said if one side or the other doesn’t want a “quasi-expert” on a jury panel, they should challenge the juror before trial.
The remaining justices also agreed, adopting a standard for juror misconduct similar to that in New Mexico. But Nancy Becker, Miriam Shearing and senior Justice Cliff Young said they would have denied the request for a new trial because they don’t believe Meyer’s lawyers established a reasonable probability the discussion of Accutane’s side effects affected the verdict.
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