SCOTUS says judges can recall discharged juries

The Supreme Court of the United States said Thursday that judges may — in rare circumstances — call a jury back to the courtroom after it has delivered a verdict and been dismissed.

The justices ruled 6-2 in a case involving a traffic accident in Montana. The decision only applies to civil lawsuits. The court did not address whether judges could recall a jury in a criminal case.

A federal jury was deliberating how much to award a man whose car was broadsided at an intersection. The amount was supposed to be something more than the $10,000 the parties had previously agreed to. Instead, jurors said the defendant owed nothing.

The judge discharged the jury before he realized a mistake had been made. He recalled jurors to service, and they quickly awarded the man $15,000 before going home for good.

The issue before the high court was whether the judge could call them back.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the court that a judge has authority to recall jurors, but must be aware that they could be exposed to outside influences.

In one example, Sotomayor wrote about the "now-ingrained instinct to check our phones whenever possible." So jurors may almost instantly be able to text something about the case or read reaction to the verdict on social media, she said.

"Prejudice can come through a whisper or a byte," Sotomayor wrote.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in dissent that a hard-and-fast rule against recalling juries is needed in "today's world of cellphones, wireless internet and 24/7 news coverage." Justice Anthony Kennedy signed onto Thomas' opinion.

The case is Dietz v. Bouldin, 15-458.

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