Supreme Court: Judges can recall dismissed jury

Supreme Court: Judges can recall dismissed jury
© Greg Nash

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a federal district court judge has the power to recall a jury that’s been dismissed.

In a 6-2 ruling, the court said a judge can recall a jury for further deliberations when an error is found in the jury’s verdict, but must do so carefully.


In delivering the opinion of the court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the inherent power to recall a jury must be exercised with restraint since dismissing and recalling jurors threatens the guarantee of an impartial jury.

“The potential for taint looms even larger when a jury is reassembled after being discharged,” she wrote. “While discharged, jurors are freed from instructions from the court requiring them not to discuss the case with other outside the jury room and to avoid external prejudicial information.”

The case centered on a man named Rocky Dietz, who sued Hillary Bouldin for negligence for injuries suffered in a car accident. At trial, Bouldin admitted liability and agreed to pay $10,136 for Dietz’s medical expenses. The question was then whether Dietz was entitled to more money.

During deliberations, the jury sent the judge a note asking whether Dietz’s medical expenses had been paid and, if so, by whom. When the judge said that information was not relevant, the jury returned a verdict in Dietz's favor but awarded him $0.

Moments after dismissing the jury, the judge realized that a $0 verdict was not legally possible given that Bouldin and Dietz had already agreed on Bouldin paying $10,136 in damages.

In dissenting from the court's majority, Justice Clarence Thomas said the case should have been remanded for a new trial because the jurors had a chance to mingle with the outside world.  

“Although the record does not indicate one way or the other, it is also possible that the jurors had access to cell phones or other wireless devices in circumstances where they understood themselves to have been released from any directions or limitations the judge had imposed on the use of those devices during trial,” Thomas wrote in his opinion, on which Justice Anthony Kennedy joined.