A juror’s contact with her father during sentencing deliberations in a capital murder case, in which her father responded to her request for a Bible verse to guide her with reference to a “eye for an eye,” suggests a possible violation of defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury; the 4th Circuit reverses the denial of habeas relief and remands for an evidentiary hearing.
In rejecting defendant’s motion for post-conviction relief, the state court relied upon several Sixth Amendment “Bible-verse” cases from our circuit, most notably Robinson v. Polk, 438 F.3d 350 (4th Cir. 2006).
Here, according to the affidavits presented to the state court deciding the motion for appropriate relief, the juror asked her father where she “could look in the Bible for help and guidance in making [her] decision for between life and death.” He, in turn, directed her to an (as yet) undetermined “eye for an eye” verse, which she consulted in private the night before returning the verdict.
The affidavit did not allege the juror discussed with her father the facts or evidence that had been presented in the trial, or the status of the jury’s deliberations. Nor was there any evidence that the juror’s father expressed any opinion about the case or attempted to influence her vote. Nevertheless, defendant presented a credible allegation of a private communication about the matter pending before the jury, entitling defendant to the presumption of prejudice and an evidentiary hearing. We hold that the state court’s failure to apply the presumption from Remmer v. U.S., 347 U.S. 227 (1954), and to conduct an evidentiary hearing in light of this showing was contrary to or an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedents applicable to juror-influence claims.
Because the state MAR court unreasonably denied defendant’s motion for further evidentiary development, defendant did not fail to develop the factual basis of his claim under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e). On remand, he will be given the opportunity to develop the record as it pertains to the juror’s extraneous conversation with her father, but he will not be entitled to the Remmer presumption in attempting to demonstrate that the communication had a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the jury verdict. To be entitled to habeas relief, defendant will need to affirmatively prove actual prejudice by demonstrating that the jury verdict was tainted by the extraneous communication.
Judgment reversed and case remanded for an evidentiary hearing on whether the communication between the juror and her father about the Bible verse had a substantial and injurious effect on the jury verdict.
Reversed and remanded.
Shedd, J.: If we were writing on a clean slate, I would affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the state. However, I agree that, given our sweeping decision in Barnes v. Joyner [VLW 014-2-086], we are constrained to vacate the grant of summary judgment and remand for an evidentiary hearing.
Hurst v. Joyner (Traxler) No. 13-6, July 2, 2014; USDC at Greensboro, N.C. (Schroeder) Robert H. Hale Jr. for appellant; Mary C. Hollis, NDDOJ, for appellee. VLW 014-2-130, 25 pp.