238 U.S. 264 (1915), 283, McDonald v. Pless

Docket NºNo. 283
Citation238 U.S. 264, 35 S.Ct. 783, 59 L.Ed. 1300
Party NameMcDonald v. Pless
Case DateJune 14, 1915
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 264

238 U.S. 264 (1915)

35 S.Ct. 783, 59 L.Ed. 1300

McDonald

v.

Pless

No. 283

United States Supreme Court

June 14, 1915

Argued May 13, 1915

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

The Conformity Act -- Rev.Stat., § 914 -- does not apply to the power of the court to inquire into the conduct of jurors. The courts of each jurisdiction, state and federal, must be in a position to adopt and enforce their own self-preserving rules.

While Rev.Stat., § 914, does not apply in this case, this Court recognizes the same policy that has been declared by that court and by the courts in England and in most of the states of the Union, that the testimony of a juror may not be received to prove the misconduct of himself or his colleagues in reaching a verdict.

The rule, endorsed by this Court in this case, that a juror may not impeach his own verdict is based upon controlling considerations of public policy which in such cases chooses the lesser of two evils.

While jurors should not reach a verdict by lot, or, as in this case, by averaging the amounts suggested by each, the verdict may not be set aside on the testimony of a juror as to his misconduct or that of his colleagues.

206 F. 263 affirmed.

The facts, which involve the validity of a verdict and judgment of the circuit court of the United States in an action for services, are stated in the opinion.

Page 265

LAMAR, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE LAMAR delivered the opinion of the Court.

Pless & Winbourne, attorneys at law, brought suit in the superior court of McDowell County, North Carolina, against McDonald to recover $4,000 alleged to be due them for legal services. The case was removed to the then Circuit Court of the United States for the Western District of North Carolina. There was a trial in which the jury returned a verdict for $2,916 in favor of Pless & Winbourne. The defendant McDonald moved to set aside the verdict on the ground that, when the jury retired, the foreman suggested that each juror should write down what he thought the plaintiffs were entitled to recover, that the aggregate of these amounts should be divided by 12, and that the quotient should be the verdict to be returned to the court. To this suggestion all assented.

The motion further averred that, when the figures were read out it, was found that one juror was in favor of giving plaintiffs nothing, eight named sums ranging from $500 to $4,000, and three put down $5,000. A part of the jury objected to using $5,000 as one of the factors, inasmuch as the plaintiffs were only suing for $4,000. But the three insisted that they had as much right to name a sum above $4,000 as the others had to vote for an amount less than that set out in the declaration. The various amounts were then added up and divided by 12. But by reason of including the three items of $5,000, the quotient was so much larger than had been expected that much dissatisfaction with the result was expressed by some of the jury. Others, however, insisted on standing by the bargain, and

Page 266

the protesting jurors finally yielded to the argument that they were bound by the previous agreement, and the quotient verdict was rendered accordingly.

The defendant further alleged in his motion [35 S.Ct. 784] that the jurors refused to file an affidavit, but stated that they were willing to testify to the facts alleged, provided the court thought it proper that they should do so. At the hearing of the motion, one of the jurors was sworn as a witness, but the court refused to allow him to testify on the ground that a juror was incompetent to impeach his own verdict. That ruling was affirmed by the court of appeals. (206 F. 263.) The case was then brought here by writ of error.

On the argument here, it was suggested that it was not necessary to consider the question involved as an original proposition, since the decision of the federal court was in accordance with the rule in North Carolina (Purcell v. Railroad Co., 119 N.C. 739), and...

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620 practice notes
  • 20 N.Y.2d 275, People v. De Lucia
    • United States
    • New York New York Court of Appeals
    • July 7, 1967
    ...If such practice were countenanced, few, if any, verdicts would survive, and there would be no end to litigation. McDonald v. Pless, 238 U.S. 264, 35 S.Ct. 783, 59 L.Ed. 1300; Tyler v. Stevens, 4 N.H. 116; Blodgett v. v. Evans, 13 N.H. 462; Keith v. v. Evans, 13 N.H. 462; Keith State, 7 Okl......
  • Jury secrecy during deliberations.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 110 Nbr. 8, June 2001
    • June 1, 2001
    ...v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279, 296 (1987); United States v. Powell, 469 U.S. 57, 67 (1984); Stein v. New York, 346 U.S. 156, 178 (1953). (78.) 238 U.S. 264, 267-68 (1915). (79.) Id. at 267. (80.) See Tanner, 483 U.S. at 120. As the Court asserted, "[a]llegations of juror misconduct, incompeten......
  • THE NEW IMPARTIAL JURY MANDATE.
    • United States
    • Michigan Law Review Vol. 117 Nbr. 4, February 2019
    • February 1, 2019
    ...had written down the sum to which he thought the plaintiff was entitled, from which an average was determined and ultimately awarded. See 238 U.S. 264, (116.) McDonald, 238 U.S. at 267. (117.) Id. at 267-68. (118.) Id. at 267. (119.) Id. at 267-68. (120.) Id. at 267. (121.) See WIGMORE, sup......
  • Presuppositions of Evidence Law
    • United States
    • Iowa Law Review Nbr. 91-4, May 2006
    • May 1, 2006
    ...435 (2d Cir. 1947) (L. Hand, J.). [258] E.g., Munafo v. Metro. Transp. Auth., 381 F.3d 99, 107 (2d Cir. 2004) (citing McDonald v. Pless, 238 U.S. 264, 267 (1915)). The older rationale for the exclusionary rule was that jurors should not be allowed to contravene their own sworn verdicts. Vai......
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613 cases
  • 20 N.Y.2d 275, People v. De Lucia
    • United States
    • New York New York Court of Appeals
    • July 7, 1967
    ...If such practice were countenanced, few, if any, verdicts would survive, and there would be no end to litigation. McDonald v. Pless, 238 U.S. 264, 35 S.Ct. 783, 59 L.Ed. 1300; Tyler v. Stevens, 4 N.H. 116; Blodgett v. v. Evans, 13 N.H. 462; Keith v. v. Evans, 13 N.H. 462; Keith State, 7 Okl......
  • 424 F.Supp. 508 (W.D.Okl. 1975), Crim. 75-8, United States v. Hall
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 10th Circuit Western District of Oklahoma
    • February 10, 1975
    ...declines to retry the matter. In this connection, it is recognized that juror Meyer may not impeach her verdicts. McDonald v. Pless, 238 U.S. 264, 35 S.Ct. 783, 59 L.Ed. 1300 (1915). Hence, an interview of this juror bringing forth a desire on her part to impeach her verdicts may not be con......
  • 492 F.2d 70 (2nd Cir. 1974), 113, United States v. Dioguardi
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
    • January 4, 1974
    ...incidence of jury tampering.' See also Stein v. New York, 346 U.S. 156, 178, 73 S.Ct. 1077, 97 L.Ed. 1522 (1953); McDonald v. Pless, 238 U.S. 264, 268, 35 S.Ct. 783, 59 L.Ed. 1300 (1915); and Mattox v. United States, 146 U.S. 140, 147-151, 13 S.Ct. 50, 36 L.Ed. 917 With respect to post-verd......
  • 640 F.3d 1159 (11th Cir. 2011), 07-13163, United States v. Siegelman
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
    • May 10, 2011
    ...juror testimony to impeach a verdict. Tanner v. United States, 483 U.S. 107, 117, 107 S.Ct. 2739, 97 L.Ed.2d 90 (1987); McDonald v. Pless, 238 U.S. 264, 35 S.Ct. 783, 59 L.Ed. 1300 The Court has repeatedly emphasized the important policy considerations that require the shielding of juries f......
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7 books & journal articles
  • Jury secrecy during deliberations.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 110 Nbr. 8, June 2001
    • June 1, 2001
    ...v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279, 296 (1987); United States v. Powell, 469 U.S. 57, 67 (1984); Stein v. New York, 346 U.S. 156, 178 (1953). (78.) 238 U.S. 264, 267-68 (1915). (79.) Id. at 267. (80.) See Tanner, 483 U.S. at 120. As the Court asserted, "[a]llegations of juror misconduct, incompeten......
  • THE NEW IMPARTIAL JURY MANDATE.
    • United States
    • Michigan Law Review Vol. 117 Nbr. 4, February 2019
    • February 1, 2019
    ...had written down the sum to which he thought the plaintiff was entitled, from which an average was determined and ultimately awarded. See 238 U.S. 264, (116.) McDonald, 238 U.S. at 267. (117.) Id. at 267-68. (118.) Id. at 267. (119.) Id. at 267-68. (120.) Id. at 267. (121.) See WIGMORE, sup......
  • Presuppositions of Evidence Law
    • United States
    • Iowa Law Review Nbr. 91-4, May 2006
    • May 1, 2006
    ...435 (2d Cir. 1947) (L. Hand, J.). [258] E.g., Munafo v. Metro. Transp. Auth., 381 F.3d 99, 107 (2d Cir. 2004) (citing McDonald v. Pless, 238 U.S. 264, 267 (1915)). The older rationale for the exclusionary rule was that jurors should not be allowed to contravene their own sworn verdicts. Vai......
  • Toward a limited right of access to jury deliberations.
    • United States
    • Federal Communications Law Journal Vol. 58 Nbr. 1, January 2006
    • January 1, 2006
    ...may survive, but the constitutional guarantee on which it is based will become meaningless. (citations omitted). (39.) McDonald v. Pless, 238 U.S. 264, 267 (1915). The Court stated: [L]et it once be established that verdicts solemnly made and publicly returned into court can be attacked and......
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