Dismissal of Quarrelsome Juror Was Wrong So Defendant’s Conviction Was Reversed

Adobe Stock Photo Source: Adobe Stock Image

California’s Penal Code (CPC) §1089 says that a juror can be removed for “good cause” if he or she refuses to deliberate. People v. Gaines provides a new definition of what this refusal must consist of to meet the law’s discharge criteria.

Rodney Louis Gaines was on trial for elder abuse because video evidence showed that he struck his 70-year-old uncle on the head and knocked him unconscious. He confessed to this crime but also claimed that his uncle hit him first. He was charged with one count of elder abuse under CPC §368(b)(1) which says “any person who knows…that a person is an elder and who…is likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits an elder to suffer…is punishable...and guilty of a misdemeanor…”

Gaines, who represented himself, was convicted of elder abuse by a jury that found the uncle “particularly vulnerable” and that Gaines “took advantage of a position of trust.” It did not find that he had engaged in violent conduct, nor was he a “serious danger to society.” In October 2022, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Manuel Almada granted Gaines’ motion to dismiss prior convictions, which, if not granted, would have required him to receive a 25-years-to-life sentence. Instead, he got four years. Gaines still appealed, arguing his Miranda rights had been violated and that the trial court erred when it refused to excuse a juror for her “refusal to deliberate.” The Miranda rights were not discussed in light of the decision about other issues in the case.

The key issue before a three-justice panel of Division Three of California’s Second District Court of Appeal was “whether objective evidence supported Judge Almada’s decision to excuse an argumentative, aggressive and hostile member of the jury pool,” referred to as Juror No. 2. Writing for the unanimous panel on February 20, Justice Rashida A. Adams reviewed the communications between Almada and the jury’s foreperson and also reviewed statements and conducted interviews with other jurors.

For example, during the first four days of deliberation, the foreperson sent a note to Almada that said that jury members were not able to continue because Juror No. 2 was “not willing to listen to any evidence and was being argumentive with the rest of the jurors.” Upon questioning, the foreperson said that No. 2 “was involved, but argumentative” and that she considered evidence that had not been presented, but was “personal scenarios” that “supported her position.” She was simply not following the judge’s instructions. At this point, Almada concluded that there was a “disagreement,” and she needed more evidence that could be obtained by asking all of the jurors whether they agreed or disagreed with the foreperson’s description of what was occurring.

Another note from the jury to the judge followed. This time, the foreperson asked Almada to remove Jurors No.2 and No. 10 because No. 2 kept arguing, and No. 10 fell asleep while the transcript was being read. Almada removed only No. 10. After a lunch break, the foreperson sent another note, accusing No. 2 of verbal abuse. The foreperson told the judge to excuse him and No. 8 for similar reasons. Almada then interviewed each juror to “address the assertion that No. 2 was failing to deliberate, as required by the CPC.”

Several other jurors added more condemning information. For example, No. 11 said that No. 2 “had made up her mind about the outcome of the case within the first five minutes of deliberations and told the rest of the jury, “‘here is nothing that you can do or say that can change my mind.’” Other jurors said No. 2 would “yell,” “put people down,” claim the other jurors were not listening to her, and “accuse them of attacking her.”

After reviewing all the conversations, Almada found “good cause to remove Juror No. 2. He wrote, “There is a demonstrable reality that Juror No. 2 is unable or unwilling to deliberate…” Adams then reviewed the CPC sections relating to juror dismissal for good cause. She quickly noted that “The court’s inquiry must focus on its own consideration of a juror’s conduct,” and it “cannot substitute the opinions of jurors for its own findings of fact.” Thus, the appellate court would not use an abuse of discretion standard but instead a “demonstrable reality” test that “requires a showing that the court as trier of fact did rely on evidence that, in light of the entire record, supports its conclusion that was established. . . . “

After reviewing all the trial court’s evidence, Circuit Judge Adams reversed Almada’s decision. She explained precedents that hold that “if a juror makes up his or her mind about a case before deliberations begin, or very early in the deliberations process, (that) does not alone amount to a failure to deliberate.” In essence, she said there would be good cause for dismissal only if a juror “failed entirely to participate in the deliberative process.” The evidence showed that this did not occur. Even though No. 2 was very difficult, she did participate.

Adams also noted that being “argumentative,” “uncooperative,” “condescending,” “combative,”“rude,” “disrespectful,” defensive, and emotional, did not amount to good cause for removal. These actions do not “constitute a refusal to deliberate and (are) not a ground for discharge.” The opinion also said that even if No. 2 was discussing personal experiences that “had nothing to do with the case,” she “did not conduct independent research or consult outside sources of information.”

Finally, the opinion explained that an error by a trial court “requires reversal only if it is reasonably probable that a result more favorable to the defendant would have been reached but for the error.” That was the outcome in People v. Gaines because it was clear that No. 2 was the only “hold out juror against a guilty verdict,” and after the alternate juror was seated, a guilty verdict was made in under 30 minutes. If No. 2 had not been dismissed, the case would likely have ended in a mistrial.

In conclusion, Adams wrote, “The trial court’s erroneous removal of Juror No. 2 was therefore prejudicial. The judgment is reversed.”

Maureen Rubin
Maureen Rubin
Maureen is a graduate of Catholic University Law School and holds a Master's degree from USC. She is a licensed attorney in California and was an Emeritus Professor of Journalism at California State University, Northridge specializing in media law and writing. With a background in both the Carter White House and the U.S. Congress, Maureen enriches her scholarly work with an extensive foundation of real-world knowledge.
Legal Blogs (Sponsored)