FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF
RHODE ISLAND Hon. John J. McConnell, Jr., U.S. District Judge
B. Harwood, with whom McKinnon & Harwood LLC was on
brief, for appellants.
J. Holley, with whom Gunning & LaFazia, Inc. was on
brief, for appellee.
Lynch, Lipez, and Thompson, Circuit Judges.
THOMPSON, Circuit Judge.
selection is a fundamental step in our legal process, and
when juror-screening mechanisms do not function as they are
meant to, we end up faced with situations such as the one in
this case: a post-verdict discovery that an individual served
as a juror when he should not have cleared preliminary
procedural hurdles due to a prior felony conviction prompted
a new-trial motion challenging the jury's verdict. But
even though this individual slipped through the qualification
cracks, his inclusion is not fatal to the jury's verdict.
We conclude that the district court properly denied the
March 2012, Brian Faria was injured in a car accident, which
he claimed was caused by a reckless highway driver who cut
him off. Eventually, Mr. Faria and his wife (collectively,
"the Farias") brought a lawsuit against their
insurance carrier, Harleysville Worcester Insurance Company
("Harleysville"), claiming that Harleysville had
incorrectly denied coverage under the uninsured motorist
provision of his automobile insurance policy. Litigation
proceeded in the normal course, and, ultimately, the case was
slated for a jury trial.
prospective juror by the name of John R. Rieger ("Mr.
Rieger") was randomly selected for jury service, and he
received a juror qualification form by mail. When completing
his form, Mr. Rieger selected "Yes" in response to
a question asking whether he had ever been convicted of a
crime for which punishment could have been more than one year
in prison. Following the form's instructions, Mr.
Rieger elaborated in the "Remarks" section: he
represented that the date of the offense was "Feb. 1995,
" the date of the conviction was "2000-2001, "
and he served eighteen months of the four-year sentence
imposed. He also selected "Yes" in response to the
question "Were your civil rights restored?" and
specifically wrote "Voting Rights." As per the
qualification form's instructions, he returned it to the
clerk of court, however, he did not sign (under penalty of
perjury) and date the form as required.
to voir dire on August 4, 2015, at which point counsel for
the Farias asked the summoned panel, amongst other things,
whether "anyone [had] served as a juror in another case,
whether it be criminal or civil?" He also asked them
questions designed to ferret out their knowledge of personal
injury claims, such as whether any of them, or anyone they
personally knew, had made such a claim. And continuing with
questioning centered on civil litigation, he asked whether
"anyone, any relative, children, husbands, uncle, aunts
that are very close to you, any of them been a Plaintiff or a
Defendant in a case?" Mr. Rieger remained silent in
response to these questions.
the jury was empaneled on August 4, 2015, it included Mr.
Rieger. Trial began on August 24, 2015, and the jury's
unanimous verdict, announced -- yes -- by foreperson Rieger,
was for Harleysville.
twelve days later, the Farias filed a motion for a new trial
after learning that Mr. Rieger had been convicted in Rhode
Island state court of assault with a dangerous weapon in
1997, and he had been sentenced to fifteen years'
imprisonment, with four years to serve, as well as an
eleven-year suspended sentence that would run concurrently
with probation. And due to his state court appeal, his
sentence was not executed until March 23, 2001, meaning he
was on a suspended sentence and probation at the time he
served on the jury. The Farias contended that Mr. Rieger was
not qualified to serve on the jury under 28 U.S.C. §
on the new-trial motion, the district court found that
following his conviction, Mr. Rieger's civil rights had
not been fully restored and, therefore, he was not qualified
to serve. But it also found that the Farias "arguably
waived [their] right to challenge [Mr. Rieger]'s
service" because they did not follow the proper
procedure for contesting his service, nor did they seek to
obtain a copy of the qualification forms which disclosed Mr.
Rieger's conviction, despite having "ample time to
learn something about the members of the jury either through
the questionnaires or otherwise." Reluctant, however, to
dispose of the case on waiver, the district court turned to
the fairness of the trial and whether any prejudice resulted
from Mr. Rieger's inclusion. The district court concluded
that the questions asked during voir dire focused on the
potential jurors' experiences in civil matters, and there
were no questions about anything to do with the criminal
justice system. From this, the district court concluded that
Mr. Rieger's silence in response to the questions during
voir dire "was appropriate and did not amount to a
dishonest nondisclosure." The district court went on,
"[Mr. Rieger] told the truth about his record in his
questionnaire, " and saw "no reason to believe that
[Mr. Rieger]'s representation was anything other than a
mistaken belief that because his voting rights were restored
upon his release from prison that all of his civil rights
were restored at that time."
district court denied the new-trial motion, concluding that
the Farias had not shown that Mr. Rieger's "service
deprived [them] of a fundamentally fair trial, " and
that "the jury was impartial" and the Farias
"had a fair trial." The Farias timely appealed and
we take the arguments in turn.
motions for a new trial are committed to the discretion of
the district court." McDonough Power Equip., Inc. v.
Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548, 556 (1984) (quoting
Montgomery Ward & Co. v.
Duncan, 311 U.S. 243, 251 (1940)). Abuse of
discretion occurs when our appellate review reveals that the
district court erred in its legal rulings or clearly erred in
its factual findings. Sampson v. United
States, 724 F.3d 150, 161 (1st Cir. 2013); see also
United States v. Bater, 594 F.3d 51,
54 n.1 (1st Cir. 2010) (explaining that "'abuse of
discretion' is used as well to embrace mistakes on
abstract issues of law (reviewed de novo) and errors of fact
(for which clear error is the customary test)").
Elaborating on that standard, we have noted that
"[w]here the [new-trial] motion rests on a challenge to
the qualification of a juror, our standard of review is
highly deferential because 'the district court is closer
to the action and has a better "feel" for the
likelihood that prejudice sprouted.'" United
States v. Nickens, 955 F.2d 112, 116
(1st Cir. 1992) (quoting United States v.
Uribe, 890 F.2d 554, 562 (1st Cir. 1989)). Further,
"[a] trial court's findings on issues of juror
credibility and honesty are determinations 'peculiarly
within a trial judge's province' and are accorded
great deference." Amirault v.
Fair, 968 F.2d 1404, 1405 (1st Cir. 1992) (quoting
Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412,
System: Jury Selection and Service Act, Jury Selection Plan,
and Juror Qualification Forms
we address the parties' arguments, a general primer on
the jury selection system in place at the time of the
Farias' trial would be useful. To put matters in context,
Farias tell us the system broke down when the clerk, on the
basis of Mr. Rieger's juror qualification form, allowed
the statutorily ineligible felon-juror to slip through the
cracks onto this jury. Here's how the system works.
Jury Selection and Service Act, 28 U.S.C. §§
1861-1878 (JSSA) directs the District Court of Rhode Island
to create a Jury Selection Plan (the "Jury
Plan"). See U.S. D. Ct. D.R.I., Jury
Selection Plan (Oct. 2013) (hereinafter Jury Plan).
In accordance with the Jury Plan, a master jury wheel is
created by selecting names at random from the voter
registration lists as maintained by the Secretary of State of
Rhode Island. Id. §§ 6(a)-(c). Names are
randomly drawn from the master jury wheel, and the
individuals selected receive juror qualification forms.
Id. §§ 7(a), (b).
qualification forms are designed to screen prospective jurors
to ensure that every juror summoned meets the requirements of
§ 1865(b)(5) of the JSSA, which, in pertinent part,
explains that any person is qualified to serve on a jury
unless he "has a charge pending against him for the
commission of, or has been convicted in a State or Federal
court of record of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for
more than one year and his ...