Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Brown: Upholding Dismissal of Juror Based on Religious Beliefs

In United States v. Brown, 17-15470 (Jan. 9, 2020) (Rosenbaum, William Pryor, Conway), the Court affirmed the defendant's convictions.

The main issue was whether the district court abused its discretion by dismissing a juror who told other jurors that the Holy Spirit told him that the defendant was not guilty.  In a lengthy opinion, the Court concluded that there was no abuse of discretion because the district court made a finding that the juror meant that the Holy Spirit told him to acquit regardless of the evidence, not that the Holy Spirit would guide him in his review of the evidence.  The Court also rejected the defendant's arguments that the district court lacked a sufficient basis to inquire into the juror's statements, that the court's inquiry violated Rule 606(b), and that the court's dismissal violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the juror's First Amendment rights, and the Sixth Amendment right to a unanimous verdict.

Judge Conway concurred but wrote separately to emphasize that the majority opinion did not mean that a juror could not use religious beliefs to seek guidance when applying the law to the evidence in the case.  Rather, the Court held only that the district court did not abuse its discretion by finding that the juror was not following the court's direction to consider the evidence.

Judge Pryor issued a 60-page dissent, criticizing the majority for mischaracterizing the juror's comments and for making it too easy to disqualify jurors who hold religious beliefs.