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Appeals Court Issues Decision on the Proper Procedure for a Defendant to Seek Post-Conviction Information About Jurors

balance-1172800-1-300x204In Commonwealth v. Vines, a case of first impression, the Appeals Court dismissed the defendant’s appeal from the denial of his post-conviction motion for information about the jurors who deliberated at his trial on the grounds that such a motion “is in the nature of a request for post-conviction discovery related to a motion for new trial, and therefore interlocutory and not appealable until a motion for new trial has been filed and decided in the trial court.”

The background was as follows. After he was convicted on several counts at a jury trial, the defendant filed a notice of appeal and, subsequently, a motion seeking the addresses and the dates of birth of the jurors who were seated in his case, for use in support of a motion for post-conviction relief. The motion for juror information was denied and the defendant appealed.  In its decision, the Appeals Court stated, “The defendant claims that he needs the juror information in order to contact the seated jurors pursuant to the procedures set forth in Commonwealth v. Moore, 474 Mass. 541, 551-552 (2016). His … grounds are that he is in possession of correspondence from a seated juror that raises questions whether there were extraneous influences from pretrial publicity that may have had an impact on individual jurors.” The defendant moved for, and was granted, a stay of his direct appeal in order to pursue the issue whether extensive pretrial publicity provided grounds for a new trial. While there are no cases that explicitly address the nature of the defendant’s motion, “we look for guidance to those cases involving a request for post-conviction discovery because the defendant’s motion seeks information that may be … relevant to a motion for new trial.”

The Court explained that “[g]enerally speaking discovery orders are interlocutory[,]” Cronin v. Strayer, 392 Mass. 525, 528 (1984), and are, therefore, not appealable “until the case is ripe for final judgment.” Pollack v. Kelly, 372 Mass. 469, 470-471 (1977), quoting Weil v. Boston Elevated Ry., 216 Mass. 545, 549 (1914).  “The same aversion to appellate review of interlocutory orders applies where an interlocutory order concerns a post-conviction ruling…. [I]mportantly, rule 30, the rule governing both post-conviction relief and discovery related to post-conviction relief, authorizes an appeal from only a final order.” Mass. R. Crim. P. 30(c)(8).  “The final order contemplated by rule 30(c)(8) is an order granting or denying post-conviction relief.” In dismissing the present appeal, the Appeals Court noted that “the defendant is not without a remedy. In the ordinary course, the defendant may pursue his motion in conjunction with a motion for new trial…. Should [he] be able to obtain a new trial with the information currently in his possession, the requested post-conviction discovery (and this appellate litigation) will be unnecessary. If, however, the motion for new trial is denied, the defendant may appeal that order and challenge in that appeal the order denying his motion for juror information.”

The importance of a fair and impartial jury cannot be overstated.  To ensure that you have such a jury, you will need a skilled and experienced attorney who is well versed in the law and who has substantial experience. Attorney Daniel Cappetta has successfully taken many cases to trial, and represented numerous defendants on appeal.  He works zealously to make sure that all jury related issues – both at the trial and appellate level – are fully preserved and litigated.  Call Attorney Cappetta today for a free consultation.

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