Decision Overturned Due to Juror-Witness Communication

The Tennessee Supreme Court today overturned trial and appellate court rulings in a murder case, finding that the lower court failed to follow appropriate procedures after a juror contacted a witness during the trial. Though the witness informed the judge of the contact, the judge allowed the proceedings to continue and sentenced the defendant after the jury found him guilty. The judge also denied requests by the defendant to question the juror and order a new trial. The Court of Criminal Appeals upheld those decisions. In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court reversed, ruling that when communication between a juror and a third party is brought to a trial court’s attention, the court must immediately inform the parties and conduct a hearing to determine the nature and extent of the communication and whether it affected the trial's outcome. Under the ruling, the trial court must now conduct such a hearing.

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