Cook County Verdict Reversed Because Juror Performed Internet Research on Key Issue in Case; McGee v. City of Chicago, et al.

In this case, Donny McGee alleged that defendants prosecuted him for murder of his elderly next door neighbor based on a fabricated confession. McGee was acquitted in the criminal case, but he spent three years wrongfully incarcerated awaiting his trial. The plaintiffs brought a civil complaint, which included claims of malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress against the defendants, City of Chicago and police detectives. The jury returned a verdict in favor of McGee of $975,000 plus $110,000 in punitive damages against each individual defendant.

One of the defendants, Detective Lenihan, testified that the plaintiff gave vague answers when being questioned about the crime. Memory lapses were a key issue in the criminal trial. Then McGee testified about being hit in the head while in Mexico although there was testimony from his sister that he had no blackouts or memory losses. The plaintiff did admit that he hit his head while in Mexico, but he denied telling that to the detectives. He also told the detective that he didn’t have blackouts.

Significantly, since memory lapses were an issue in the case. It was learned during the trial by the court’s bailiff that one of the jurors had a document about memory lapses that she had found during an internet search and brought it to the jury room. When the bailiff advised the court, there was an exchange between the judge and the bailiff. The defendants’ lawyer argued to the judge that there was a great risk that the juror did not follow the court’s instructions regarding outside research but yet denied that she brought it into the court when asked by the bailiff. The trial judge asked the parties’ lawyer to submit a memorandum of law on the issue for the next court date.

The defendants’ counsel argued that memory lapse was an issue in the case evidenced by the plaintiff’s offering of the detectives’ testimony. The defendants argued that the court should flush the issue out through a voir dire of the juror.

The plaintiff’s counsel argued that bringing in the juror for questioning may impact deliberation and may cause problems with other jurors. The judge decided that jurors were presumed to follow instructions, and the court is hesitant to voir dire a juror because “The court surely doesn’t want to embarrass any juror, or make that juror feel that somehow or another, that juror has done something wrong.” Therefore, the judge concluded that the juror would not be voir dired.

After the trial, the defendants again moved for a new trial arguing that the trial court abused its discretion by failing to remove or even voir dire the juror who performed independent research on the issue of memory loss. The Illinois Appellate Court found that the circuit court abused its discretion by failing to voir dire the juror who performed extraneous research on an issue that had a direct bearing on the case; that is, the plaintiff’s alleged memory lapses. Evidence of a juror’s motives, methods or decision-making process is typically inadmissible to impeach a verdict. However, where extraneous or unauthorized information has reached the jury, evidence of such events can be used to impeach a verdict. People v. Collins, 351 Ill.App.3d 175, 179 (2004). “The party challenging the verdict needs to show only that the information relates directly to something at issue in the case, which the losing party did not have the opportunity to refute, and that may have influenced the verdict. Thornton v. Garcini, 364 Ill.App.3d 612, 616 (2006).

Since the defendants raised the issue of the independent research done by a juror, the burden then shifted to plaintiff, as the non-movant, to show that no prejudice occurred. The court held that McGee did not satisfy that burden.

For that reason, the appellate court reversed and remanded the case back for a new trial.

Donny McGee v. City of Chicago, et al., 2012 IL App. (1st 111084).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling jury trials for individuals and families for more than 36 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Antioch, Tinley Park, Joliet, Streamwood, Rolling Meadows, Richton Park, Chicago (Lawndale), South Holland and Wheaton, Ill.

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