724 F.3d 150 (1st Cir. 2013), 12-1643, Sampson v. United States

Docket Nº:12-1643, 12-8019.
Citation:724 F.3d 150
Opinion Judge:SELYA, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:Gary Lee SAMPSON, Petitioner, Appellee, v. UNITED STATES of America, Respondent, Appellant. Gary Lee Sampson, Respondent, v. United States Of America, Petitioner.
Attorney:Mark T. Quinlivan, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Carmen M. Ortiz, United States Attorney, was on brief, for appellant. William E. McDaniels, with whom Jennifer G. Wicht, Cadence Mertz, Williams & Connolly LLP, J. Martin Richey, Elizabeth L. Prevett, Federal Public Defender's Office,...
Judge Panel:Before LYNCH, Chief Judge, SELYA and LIPEZ, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:July 25, 2013
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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Page 150

724 F.3d 150 (1st Cir. 2013)

Gary Lee SAMPSON, Petitioner, Appellee,

v.

UNITED STATES of America, Respondent, Appellant.

Gary Lee Sampson, Respondent,

v.

United States Of America, Petitioner.

Nos. 12-1643, 12-8019.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit.

July 25, 2013

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Mark T. Quinlivan, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Carmen M. Ortiz, United States Attorney, was on brief, for appellant.

William E. McDaniels, with whom Jennifer G. Wicht, Cadence Mertz, Williams & Connolly LLP, J. Martin Richey, Elizabeth L. Prevett, Federal Public Defender's Office,

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and Susan K. Marcus were on brief, for appellee.

Before LYNCH, Chief Judge, SELYA and LIPEZ, Circuit Judges.

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

Few accouterments of our criminal justice system are either more fundamental or more precious than the accused's right to an impartial jury. That right is threatened when— as in this case— juror dishonesty occurs during the voir dire process yet is not discovered until well after final judgment has entered on the jury's verdict. But finality is also valuable, and not every instance of juror dishonesty requires setting aside a previously rendered verdict.

In its present posture, this case poses important questions about when and under what circumstances the belated discovery of juror dishonesty during the voir dire process demands vacatur of a jury verdict. The stakes are high— the jury here recommended a death sentence— and the cases that populate this arcane corner of the law are muddled.

The architecture of these appeals is easily described. Gary Lee Sampson, the defendant in the underlying criminal case, is on death row following his conviction on two counts of carjacking (death resulting), a penalty-phase hearing in which the jury voted to recommend capital punishment, and an unsuccessful direct appeal. See United States v. Sampson ( Sampson I ), 486 F.3d 13 (1st Cir.2007), cert. denied, 553 U.S. 1035, 128 S.Ct. 2424, 171 L.Ed.2d 234 (2008). In an effort to undo his sentence, the defendant brought a habeas petition, see 28 U.S.C. § 2255, and confronted the district court with a claim that juror dishonesty during the voir dire process antecedent to the penalty-phase hearing deprived him of an impartial jury. Following an evidentiary hearing, the district court agreed; it vacated the death sentence and ordered a new penalty-phase hearing. United States v. Sampson ( Sampson IV ), No. 01-10384, 2012 WL 1633296, at *15 (D.Mass. May 10, 2012); United States v. Sampson ( Sampson II ), 820 F.Supp.2d 151, 202 (D.Mass.2011). The government seeks immediate review of this decision.

We first address nuanced questions that cast doubt upon our appellate jurisdiction. Concluding, as we do, that we can proceed to the merits of the juror dishonesty claim, we adopt the district court's findings of fact, articulate the proper legal framework, array the district court's findings of fact against that framework, and hold that the defendant's sentence must be set aside and a new penalty-phase hearing conducted.

I. BACKGROUND

We rehearse here only those facts that are needed to tee up this proceeding. The reader who hungers for more details should consult the litany of earlier opinions in this case. See, e.g., Sampson I, 486 F.3d 13; Sampson II, 820 F.Supp.2d 151; United States v. Sampson ( Sampson III ), 820 F.Supp.2d 202 (D.Mass.2011); see also McCloskey v. Mueller, 446 F.3d 262 (1st Cir.2006).

In 2001, the defendant engaged in a crime spree that took him up the eastern seaboard. The spree included a series of bank robberies in North Carolina and a botched attempt to surrender to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. See McCloskey, 446 F.3d at 264. The defendant then perpetrated two Massachusetts carjackings that led to the slaying of the carjacked drivers (Phillip McCloskey and Jonathan Rizzo). In each instance, the defendant hitched a ride with the victim, forced the victim at knifepoint to drive to a secluded area, and committed murder.

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Following these gruesome incidents, the defendant fled to New Hampshire in Rizzo's vehicle, forcibly entered a house, and strangled the caretaker (Robert Whitney). He then drove Whitney's vehicle to Vermont, abandoned it, and resumed hitchhiking. Another Good Samaritan, William Gregory, gave him a lift. To repay his kindness, the defendant attempted to force Gregory at knifepoint to drive to a secluded spot. This time, however, the intended victim escaped. The defendant later called 911, surrendered to the authorities, and confessed.

On October 24, 2001, a federal grand jury sitting in the District of Massachusetts charged the defendant with two counts of carjacking, death resulting.1 See 18 U.S.C. § 2119(3). A superseding indictment, deemed necessary to comply with Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584, 609, 122 S.Ct. 2428, 153 L.Ed.2d 556 (2002), reiterated these charges; and the government served a notice of intent to seek the death penalty under the Federal Death Penalty Act (FDPA), 18 U.S.C. § 3593(a).

In due course, the defendant admitted guilt with respect to both counts. The district court empaneled a death-qualified jury to consider the punishment to be imposed. See id. § 3593(b)(2)(A); see also United States v. Green, 407 F.3d 434, 436-37 (1st Cir.2005) (discussing " death-qualified jury" requirements).

The voir dire lasted seventeen days and involved an extensive effort to ensure that each juror could— and would— decide the defendant's fate solely on the evidence. As a preliminary matter, hundreds of potential jurors were required to answer under oath seventy-seven written questions, carefully designed to elicit information concerning possible bias and life experiences that might have subconsciously affected an individual's ability to consider the defendant's sentence objectively. Many venirepersons were excused based on their written responses. Those who passed muster were interrogated by the court and the parties.

Prospective jurors were repeatedly directed to answer all questions accurately and honestly. All were advised that, upon request, responses concerning sensitive subjects (whether written or oral) would be kept out of the public record.

After individual questioning, the district court excused potential jurors for cause for a wide variety of reasons, including pretrial exposure to information about the case, attitudes that raised questions about impartiality, emotional life experiences comparable to matters that would be aired at trial, and responses that lacked candor. Eventually, the court seated a jury of twelve, along with six alternates. During the six-week penalty-phase hearing, the court learned that two jurors had answered voir dire questions inaccurately and replaced them with alternates.

The penalty-phase hearing turned in large measure on the existence vel non of statutory and non-statutory aggravating factors and mitigating factors. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 3592(a), (c), 3593(c). In the end, the jury unanimously recommended that the defendant be sentenced to death on both counts. The district court followed this recommendation and imposed a sentence of death. See id. §§ 3553, 3594; United States v. Sampson, 300 F.Supp.2d 275, 278 (D.Mass.2004). The court also denied a flurry of post-trial motions. United States v. Sampson, 332 F.Supp.2d 325, 341 (D.Mass.2004).

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On direct review, we affirmed the sentence. Sampson I, 486 F.3d at 52. The Supreme Court denied the defendant's ensuing petition for a writ of certiorari. See Sampson v. United States, 553 U.S. 1035, 128 S.Ct. 2424, 171 L.Ed.2d 234 (2008).

On June 25, 2008, the district court appointed new counsel to handle post-conviction proceedings. See 18 U.S.C. § 3599(a)(2). After some procedural skirmishing, the defendant filed a petition to vacate, set aside, or correct the judgment. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Pertinently, the defendant claimed that he was deprived of the right to have his sentence decided by an impartial jury because three jurors, designated for the sake of anonymity as Jurors C, D, and G, had falsely answered material voir dire questions.2

The district court prudently convened an evidentiary hearing to determine the scope and severity of the allegedly inaccurate voir dire responses. This hearing was held over three non-consecutive days. The first session concerned all three of the contested jurors; the second and third sessions focused exclusively on Juror C.

After careful consideration, the district court concluded that the inaccuracies contained in Juror D's and Juror G's responses were unintentional errors that did not justify setting aside the results of the penalty-phase hearing. Sampson II, 820 F.Supp.2d at 197-201. The court reached a different conclusion as to Juror C, finding that she had repeatedly and intentionally provided dishonest responses to important voir dire questions. Id. at 192-97. The court stated that truthful answers would have resulted in Juror C's excusal for cause during voir dire because the court would have " inferred bias." Id. at 165-66, 194-97. Consequently, the court set aside the defendant's sentence,3 id. at 181-97, and on May 10, 2012, ordered a new penalty-phase hearing, Sampson IV, 2012 WL 1633296, at *15.

At the government's behest, the court subsequently certified the following questions for immediate appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b): " (1) whether [ McDonough Power Equipment, Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548, 104 S.Ct. 845, 78 L.Ed.2d 663 (1984) ] requires proof of actual bias or implied bias to obtain relief; and, if not, (2) whether [the district] court correctly stated the McDonough test." Sampson IV, 2012 WL 1633296, at *15.

Recognizing that its right to prosecute an immediate appeal of the district court's order was freighted with uncertainty, the...

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