Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Brown: En Banc Court Vacates Conviction For Dismissing Juror Guided by the Holy Spirit

In United States v. Brown, No. 17-15470 (May 6, 2017) (William Pryor, Newsom, Branch, Grant, Luck, Lagoa, and Brasher), the en banc Court vacated the defendant’s conviction.

The en banc majority held that the district court abused its discretion by dismissing a juror who said that the Holy Spirit told him that the defendant was not guilty, but then assured the court that he was following the instructions and basing his decision on the evidence at trial.  Because there was a “substantial possibility” that he was basing his decision on the evidence and the law, removing the juror violated the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a unanimous jury.

Judge Newsom, joined by Judge Grant, concurred, emphasizing that the juror’s Holy Spirit statement had to viewed in the context of the record and that the case wasn’t really about religion.

Judge Brasher, joined by Judge Branch, concurred, opining that there was no reason to inquire into the juror’s thoughts at all because his comment occurred at the outset of deliberations and the juror had committed no misconduct.

Judge Wilson, joined by Judges Martin, Jordan, and Rosenbaum (Jill Pryor was recused), dissented, emphasizing that the appellate court should not second guess the district court’s factual findings about the juror, which should be reviewed deferentially.

Judge Rosenbaum, joined by Judges Wilson and Martin, dissented, emphasizing that the majority’s reasoning would equally prevent, and thus deter, a judge from dismissing a juror who said that the Holy Spirit told him to convict.