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7th Circuit vacates habeas petition, orders further proceedings

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Although a District Court’s grant of the habeas petition of a man claiming he didn’t have an impartial jury was reversed by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, the case was sent back to the lower court for the state to show that the jury was not prejudiced.

Virgil Hall III was convicted by a jury in state court in 2001 of killing his stepson. After Hall was convicted, he found out that one of the juror’s sons was an inmate with him. The juror’s son told his father that he believed Hall was innocent, but the juror later found out that his son and other inmates changed their mind and thought Hall was guilty. That juror conveyed this information to several jurors. Hall was convicted of murder.

The state court rejected Hall’s motion to correct error, he lost on direct appeal, and then filed his petition for habeas in the Northern District of Indiana. Hall argued that the state should have to prove that the extraneous information that reached the jury wasn’t prejudicial and that the Indiana courts contravened established federal law handed down by the Supreme Court, citing Remmer v. United States, 347 U.S. 227 (1954). The District Court granted the petition.

In Virgil Hall III v. Michael Zenk, superintendent, 11-3911, handed down Wednesday, the judges determined that “federal constitutional law maintains a presumption of prejudice in at least some intrusion cases. The standard applied by the Court of Appeals of Indiana requires that a defendant prove that he was probably harmed by an extraneous communication had with a juror, which leaves no room for the potential for a presumption, in contravention of Remmer and (United States v. Olano, 507 U.S. 725 (1993)),” Judge Joel Flaum wrote.

“Even under a narrow reading of Remmer that permits a presumption of prejudice only where there is a likelihood of prejudice … a presumption was due to Hall in his postverdict hearing, and the state court decision to the contrary was an abuse of discretion,” Flaum continued. “Thus, we are confident that despite some ambiguity regarding when the Remmer presumption should apply, all reasonable interpretations of Remmer and its progeny would lead to a presumption of prejudice in favor of Hall in his postverdict hearing. Thus, the trial court that oversaw Hall’s conviction acted contrary to clearly established federal law under the (Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.)”

The judges remanded for a hearing to determine whether Hall was prejudiced by the extraneous information that reached the jury.

 

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