United States District Court, District of Minnesota
Laura M. Provinzino and Katharine T. Buzicky, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY’S OFFICE, for plaintiff,
Douglas Olson, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL DEFENDER, for defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL
JOHN R. TUNHEIM United States District Judge
On January 9, 2015, James Patrick Needham (“Needham”) was convicted by a jury on one count of possession of child pornography and one count of distribution of child pornography. Needham now moves for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33, or in the alternative an evidentiary hearing, alleging juror misconduct on the basis of a post-trial e-mail sent by a juror to the prosecutor. Because Needham has not shown that the juror acted with actual bias, or lied during voir dire, the Court will deny the motion.
Needham was indicted on May 6, 2013 on one count of possession of child pornography, and one count of distribution of child pornography. (Indictment, May 6, 2013, Docket No. 1.) On January 9, 2015, Needham was convicted by a jury on both counts. (Redacted Jury Verdict, Jan. 9, 2015, Docket No. 77.) Assistant United States Attorney (“AUSA”) Laura Provinzino was the lead prosecutor in the case. On Saturday, January 10, 2015, one day after the trial ended, AUSA Provinzino received an e-mail from Brian Arnzen, who had been one of the jurors in the case. (Resp. to Mot. for Prelim. Order of Forfeiture, Ex. A (“E-mail”), Feb. 27, 2015, Docket No. 84.)
In the e-mail, Arnzen told AUSA Provinzino, “I recognized your last name, and AFTER our verdict and the trial was over, I hoped that I would run in to you to ask if you (or possibly a spouse) had relatives with ties to Melrose [Minnesota].” (Id.) Arnzen continued, “[i]f you are who I think you are, then Jean Provinzino was your Grandmother???” (Id.) Arnzen went on to explain that Jean Provinzino had been his teacher in fourth grade in Melrose, Minnesota. (Id.) Arnzen further recounted helping Jean Provinzino with her banking “on more than a few occasions in St. Cloud” in 2000 and 2001. (Id.) Throughout the letter, Arnzen also expressed admiration for Jean Provinzino, including that he “wanted to tell [AUSA Provinzino] what a terrific lady your Grandmother was!” (Id.) He also concluded the letter by stating that Jean Provinzino “was a wonderful lady.” (Id.) With regard to the case, Arnzen wrote, “I did NOT do research of any kind during the trial, but when I got home I was curious.” (Id.) Arnzen also wrote about the trial that “[t]he evidence was overwhelming.” (Id.)
After receiving the e-mail, AUSA Provinzino did not communicate with Arnzen, and disclosed the e-mail to the Court and to defense counsel. (Id., Ex. B.) On January 22, 2015, Needham filed a motion for a new trial, on the basis that the juror had failed to disclose during voir dire that he recognized the prosecutor’s family name, and that the juror was biased in favor of the government by virtue of the juror’s relationship with AUSA Provinzino’s grandmother. (Def.’s Mot. for a New Trial, Jan. 22, 2015, Docket No. 80.) Needham later filed a memorandum in support of his motion in which he asks, in the alternative, for an evidentiary hearing. (Def.’s Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. for New Trial or Evidentiary Hearing Due to Juror Misconduct (“Def.’s Mem.”) at 2, Mar. 9, 2015, Docket No. 85.)
I. MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees federal criminal defendants “the right to a . . . trial, by an impartial jury.” U.S. Const., amend. VI. A juror is presumed to be impartial if the juror is able to “render a verdict based on the evidence presented in court.” United States v. Johnston, 906 F.2d 1285, 1288 (8th Cir. 1990) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also United States v. Wright, 340 F.3d 724, 733 (8th Cir. 2003) (“Impartiality is presumed so long as the jurors can conscientiously and properly carry out their sworn duty to apply the law to the facts of the particular case.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
“Where an attack is made upon the integrity of the trial by reason of alleged misconduct on the part of a juror in failing to disclose information pertinent to the issue of prejudice, the defendant’s burden of proof must be sustained not as a matter of speculation, but as a demonstrable reality.” United States v. Whiting, 538 F.2d 220, 223 (8th Cir. 1976); Goeders v. Hundley, 59 F.3d 73, 75 (8th Cir. 1995) (“To maintain a claim that a biased juror prejudiced him, however, [the defendant] must show that the juror was actually biased against him.” (emphasis added)). In extreme cases, a defendant can argue that presumed or implied bias exists, in lieu of actual bias. United States v. Tucker, 243 F.3d 499, 509 (8th Cir. 2001); see also Allen v. Brown Clinic, P.L.L.P., 531 F.3d 568 (8th Cir. 2008).
To obtain a new trial based on the allegation that a juror lied or misled the Court during voir dire, a defendant must show “ that a juror failed to answer honestly a material question on voir dire, and  then further show that a correct response would have provided a valid basis for a challenge for cause.” McDonough Power Equip., Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548, 556 (1984). Again, though, the real question is whether the juror was not able to act impartially. Id. (“The motives for concealing information may vary, but only those reasons that affect a juror’s impartiality can truly be said to affect the fairness of a trial.”); see also Tucker, 243 F.3d at 508 (discussing whether a defendant must show juror dishonesty and actual bias to obtain a new trial, or actual bias alone, and stating that “this case does not require us to settle the question of whether actual bias alone would warrant a new trial, because the district court found that [the defendant] failed to show actual bias on the part of [the juror]” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
Needham has not shown that Arnzen “failed to answer honestly a material question on voir dire.” McDonough, 464 U.S. at 556. Moreover, he has failed to show actual bias. There is no evidence here that Arnzen knew the prosecutor or immediately recognized her name during voir dire. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Arnzen was aware of or focused on the connection between the prosecutor and his former teacher during voir dire or during trial. Indeed, Arnzen’s e-mail states that he did not do research during the trial and that he became curious about AUSA Provinzino’s last name “when [he] got home.” (E-mail.) In other words, he did not fully realize the connection, or research and look into it, until the trial had ended and he had returned home. Nothing in the record supports Needham’s contrary assertion that Arnzen concealed a close relationship with the Provinzino family in order to watch, learn about, and contact the prosecutor. Nor does it show that Arnzen went to “great ...