United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
Tysen Duva, Esq. (Asst. U.S. Attorney), Michael Coolican,
Esq. (Asst. U.S. Attorney), Eric G. Olshan, Esq. (Asst. U.S.
Attorney) James W. Smith, III, Esq. Samuel A. Walker, Esq.
ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR NEW
TIMOTHY J. CORRIGAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
case was tried from April 24 to May 8, 2017, with both sides
getting a full opportunity to present their evidence and
arguments. The jury then began deliberating. On May 10,
following a communication from another juror and with both
parties' agreement, I questioned Juror No. 13 who told me
that from the beginning of deliberations, he had
“received information as to what [he] was told to
do” from his “Father in Heaven” and that
“the Holy Spirit” “told [him] that Corrine
Brown was not guilty on all charges.” Doc. 182 at Tr.
41, 51. Recognizing the sensitivities when
religious beliefs are involved, I nevertheless determined
that this juror must be excused. I would have reached the
same conclusion had the juror said that the Holy Spirit had
told him that Corrine Brown was guilty on all charges.
the rules, we could have proceeded with eleven jurors.
However, both sides asked me to seat an alternate so I did. I
received an individual commitment from each juror that they
would start deliberations anew. The newly composed twelve
member jury then deliberated for more than eleven hours over
two days before returning a verdict of guilty on some counts
and not guilty on others, bespeaking careful consideration of
the evidence. Then, each juror stood up in open court and
announced that this was their “true verdict.”
Brown received a fair trial and a considered verdict from a
properly constituted jury. Her motion for new trial is
denied. A full discussion follows.
The Pertinent Facts
Congresswoman Corrine Brown and a co-defendant, who
eventually pled guilty and testified against her, were
charged in a twenty-four count indictment alleging a
conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, aiding and abetting
mail and wire fraud, and, as to Corrine Brown only,
additional financial disclosure and income tax-related
selection began on April 24, 2017 with a pool of over 100
prospective jurors coming in over the next two days. On the
morning of April 26, United States Magistrate Judge James R.
Klindt, who selected the jury by the parties' consent,
seated a jury of twelve with four alternates. All those
seated on the jury agreed during questioning that they had no
“political, religious, or moral beliefs that would
preclude [them] from serving as a fair, impartial juror in
this case.” Doc. 169 at Tr. 189. Each juror also agreed
that they had no “religious or moral beliefs”
that would preclude them from “sitting in judgment of
another person.” Id. at Tr. 190. Once the jury
was selected, each juror swore to render a true verdict
according to the law, evidence and instructions of the Court.
Doc. 171 at Tr. 44-45. The Court then instructed the jury
that their task was to decide the case based solely on the
evidence they heard in the courtroom and to ignore all
outside opinions. Id. at Tr. 50. As the Court then
reiterated, “If you didn't get it in this
courtroom, you shouldn't have it” because
“our whole system depends upon the fact that the case
is decided in this courtroom on the evidence in this
courtroom and nothing else.” Id. at Tr. 50-51.
The Court advised the members of the jury that “every
single one of you has [the] responsibility to make sure that
that's what happens.” Id. at Tr. 51.
eight days of trial, the jury heard testimony from 41
witnesses, including the defendant, and the Court admitted
371 exhibits into evidence. After closing arguments, the
Court instructed the jury on the law, including instructions
that their decision “must be based only on the evidence
presented during the trial” and that the jury
“must follow the law as I explain it- even if you do
not agree with the law- and you must follow all of my
instructions as a whole, ” and that they “must
not single out or disregard any of the Court's
instructions on the law.” Doc. 180 at Tr. 124. The
jurors were also instructed that they each must decide the
case for themselves, “but only after fully considering
the evidence with the other jurors, ” that they
“must discuss the case with one another and try to
reach an agreement, ” and that they should not hesitate
to reexamine their opinions and change their mind if they
become convinced that they were wrong. Id. at Tr.
143-44. The four alternates were dismissed but were kept
together in the courthouse under orders that they continue to
follow all the Court's instructions, including that they
not discuss the case.
began on Monday afternoon, May 8. At 5:00 p.m. the jury
retired for the evening, returning the following day where
they deliberated without incident from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Later that evening, Juror No. 8 (who was not the foreperson)
called the courtroom deputy on her cell phone to report that
she and other jurors had “concerns” about Juror
No. 13 who, from the beginning of their deliberations, was
talking about “Higher Beings” and mentioned the
name of the defendant. The courtroom deputy immediately advised
Juror No. 8 that she could not discuss the matter with her
but would report it to the Judge, which she then did. I
communicated with counsel overnight via email, we shared
relevant case law,  and I convened a hearing at 8:15 a.m. the
following morning (Wednesday, May 10) to determine how to
some discussion, both sides were firm that the Court needed
to question Juror No. 8 in camera to gather more
information. The Court agreed.
of the public and media were cleared from the courtroom and
Juror No. 8 was brought in. Before making any inquiry, the
Court advised her:
[B]efore I ask you any questions or talk to you, I want to
make sure that you know that I am not asking you to, nor
should you, state or reveal in anything you say your own
opinions or positions about any of the deliberations that
you've been having or any of the issues in this case, nor
should you disclose or discuss the opinions of any of the
other jurors about any of the deliberations that have gone
on. So I want to be clear about that.
Doc. 182 at Tr. 21. The Court then asked Juror No. 8 to share
her concerns as she had recounted them the previous evening,
“without talking about the deliberations or anybody
else's views or your views.” Id. Juror No.
8 then offered to give the Court a letter she had written in
case she did not receive further communication following her
phone call the previous evening. The Court accepted her
letter and shared it with the parties. The letter, marked as
Court Exhibit 1, states:
With all due respect, I'm a little concerned about a
statement made by Juror #13 when we began deliberation.
He said “A Higher Being told me Corrine Brown was Not
Guilty on all charges”. He later went on to say he
“trusted the Holy Ghost”. We all asked that he
base his verdict on the evidence provided, the testimony of
the witnesses and the laws of the United States court. Other
members of the Jury share my concern.
[name redacted], Juror # 8
further questioning, Juror No. 8 stated that Juror No. 13
made his first comment when the jury “first went into
deliberation” and made his second comment a few hours
later the same day; Juror No. 13 had not expressed that view
again; his comments were not interfering with Juror No.
8's ability to deliberate; and Juror No. 13 appeared to
be deliberating. Doc. 182 at Tr. 23-24. The Court solicited
questions from counsel, which resulted in Juror No. 8
explaining that while Juror No. 13's comments only
occurred on the first day, other jurors had subsequently
expressed concern in Juror No. 13's presence that his
comments might affect his decision. Juror No. 8 also advised
that she was acting on her own initiative and the other
jurors did not know she had come forward. Id. at Tr.
23-26. The Court then excused Juror No. 8 with the admonition
that she not share with the other jurors the discussion she
had just had with the Court, to which she agreed.
government commented that Juror No. 13's statements
contradicted his agreement during voir dire that he would set
aside any religious or philosophical beliefs and further
expressed concern that while Juror No. 8 said his comments
were not affecting her ability to deliberate, it could be
affecting the overall deliberations, particularly since Juror
No. 13's comments came at the beginning of deliberations.
Counsel for the government suggested questioning the
foreperson. Counsel for the defendant suggested doing nothing
further in light of Juror No. 8's statement that her own
deliberations were not affected and the lack of evidence that
Juror No. 13 was refusing to follow the Court's
instructions, but acknowledged that if Juror No. 13 was
committed to a particular result notwithstanding the
evidence, it would be a concern. Id. at Tr. 28-30.
The Court noted the fine line between persons praying for
guidance, which is to be respected, and persons being
prevented by a religious view from making a determination
based on the evidence. The Court then asked the parties
whether Juror No. 13 should be questioned, commenting that if
Juror No. 8 had reported that Juror No. 13 told the jury that
the Holy Spirit told him Corrine Brown was guilty of all
charges, her counsel likely would want further inquiry. Her
counsel agreed that Juror No. 13 could be questioned to see
if he could assure the Court that he would follow the law.
Id. at Tr. 30-33.
Court determined to question Juror No. 13. The parties agreed
the Court should first ask him general questions such as
whether he was able to follow the instructions given in voir
dire about setting aside any religious or moral views that
would prevent a decision based on the evidence, and to follow
up asking more specific questions, such as whether he had
shared contrary views with the jury. Juror No. 13 was then
brought in and told the Court that he remembered the Court
asking about political, religious or moral beliefs that would
preclude service as a fair and impartial juror and he
maintained the response he had previously given that he could
serve. Juror No. 13 said he was not having any difficulty
with any religious or moral beliefs interfering with his
ability to decide the case on the facts presented and the law
as instructed. Id. at Tr. 39. The Court then asked
if he considered himself to have been deliberating with the
other jurors to which he responded that they were going over
the individual charges. The Court interrupted, instructing
Juror No. 13 not to reveal anything about the deliberations.
Juror No. 13 responded that he had been “following and
listening to what has been presented and making a
determination from that, as to what I think and
believe.” Id. at Tr. 40. The Court then asked
Juror No. 13 whether he had made any statements to his fellow
jurors to the effect that a higher being was guiding him on
these decisions or that he was trusting in his religion as a
basis for making his decisions. Id. Juror No. 13
responded: “I did, yes.” Id. The
following colloquy then took place:
The Court: Okay. Can you tell me, as best you can, what you
Juror No. 13: Absolutely. I told them that in all of this, in
listening to all the information, taking it all down, I
listen for the truth, and I know the truth when the truth is
spoken. So I expressed ...