The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Juarez on April 29, 2011.
Vehicular Homicide—Driving Under the Influence—Driving While Ability Impaired—Careless Driving—Jury Verdict—Polling—C.RE. 606(b).
Defendant Benito Juarez appealed the judgment of conviction entered on jury verdicts finding him guilty of vehicular homicide, driving under the influence (DUI), and careless driving. The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for new trial.
After deliberation, the jury returned verdicts finding Juarez guilty of vehicular homicide, careless driving, and driving while ability impaired (DWAI). The district court, on its own initiative, determined that the verdicts finding Juarez guilty of vehicular homicide and DWAI were “inconsistent.” The district court reasoned that to be guilty of vehicular homicide, a defendant must be found guilty of DUI. The district court then polled and questioned the jury to ascertain the reason for the inconsistent verdicts. After the court’s questioning, the district court provided the jury with written and oral supplemental instructions and directed the jury to resume deliberations. Subsequently, the jury returned a second set of verdicts, finding Juarez guilty of vehicular homicide, DUI, and careless driving.
Juarez contended that the district court should have granted his motion for a directed verdict because the initial jury verdicts were inconsistent. An inconsistency in the first verdicts did not necessarily render the entire verdict unenforceable. However, the lack of unanimity did.
Juarez contended that the manner in which the district court polled the jury created reversible error. Extensive or coercive questioning of the jurors regarding their deliberative process is improper even if the district court perceives jury confusion regarding the applicable law. Here, the jury shared its mental processes only after the district court continued to probe. Moreover, the court itself may have influenced the jury’s second set of verdicts. Therefore, the manner in which the district court polled Juarez’s jury regarding the perceived inconsistent verdicts exceeded the bounds of C.R.E. 606(b). Accordingly, the fundamental fairness of the trial itself was called into question, the judgment of conviction was reversed, and the case was remanded for a new trial.