Tanner v. United States

483 U.S. 107 (1987)

Quick Summary

Quick Summary Icon

William Conover (defendant) and Anthony Tanner (defendant) were convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States and committing mail fraud related to contracts awarded for a power plant construction project. Jurors alleged misconduct during the trial, leading to motions for a new trial based on intoxication.

The Supreme Court addressed whether juror testimony regarding intoxication could be admitted to impeach the verdict. The Court concluded that such testimony is inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b), thereby affirming the lower court’s decision.

Facts of the Case

Facts of the case Icon

William Conover (defendant) was employed as the procurement manager at Seminole Electric Cooperative, Inc., a corporation that borrowed over $1.1 billion to construct a coal-fired power plant. The loan was guaranteed by the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), a credit agency of the United States Department of Agriculture. Anthony Tanner (defendant) owned a limerock mine and was a friend and business associate of Conover.

Conover and Tanner engaged in a series of transactions where Seminole acquired materials from Tanner’s mine for the construction of a patrol road, essential for the power plant project. Tanner was awarded contracts for providing fill materials and building the road, which were paid with the federally guaranteed loan money.

Subsequent issues arose with the road construction, including disputes over access road maintenance, bonding requirements, and the suitability of materials. Conover and Tanner had prior business dealings, including landscaping work and property transactions, which raised conflict of interest concerns at Seminole, leading to Conover’s suspension and demotion.

Following an investigation by federal authorities, Conover and Tanner were indicted and convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States and committing mail fraud. Post-conviction, allegations surfaced from jurors about misconduct during the trial, including intoxication and drug use, leading to motions for a new trial.

Procedural Posture and History

History Icon
  1. Conover and Tanner were indicted and underwent a 6-week trial resulting in a hung jury and mistrial.
  2. The defendants were reindicted and convicted on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States and committing mail fraud.
  3. Post-conviction motions for a new trial were filed based on juror misconduct allegations, specifically intoxication during the trial.
  4. The District Court denied the motions for new trial, ruling that juror testimony on intoxication was inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b).
  5. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the convictions.
  6. Conover and Tanner appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

I.R.A.C. Format


Issue Icon

Whether the District Court erred in refusing to admit juror testimony at a postverdict hearing regarding juror intoxication during the trial.

Rule of Law

Rule Icon

Under Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b), during an inquiry into the validity of a verdict, a juror may not testify about matters occurring during deliberations or their mental processes related therewith, except for testimony about whether extraneous prejudicial information was brought to the jury’s attention or whether any outside influence was improperly brought to bear upon any juror.

Reasoning and Analysis

Reasoning Icon

The Supreme Court analyzed historical practices and policy considerations surrounding juror testimony to impeach verdicts. The Court observed that allowing postverdict scrutiny of juror conduct could undermine the jury system’s finality, frankness in deliberation, and public trust.

The Court distinguished between external influences, which could be subject to juror testimony, and internal matters such as juror intoxication, which are not considered external influences under Rule 606(b). The legislative history of Rule 606(b) supported this interpretation as it intended to preserve long-established federal law limiting juror testimony to external influences only.


Conclusion Icon

The Supreme Court affirmed in part and remanded the case, holding that juror testimony on intoxication is inadmissible to impeach a jury verdict under Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b).

Key Takeaways

Takeaway Icon
  1. Juror testimony intended to impeach a verdict is inadmissible if it pertains to internal matters such as intoxication, rather than external influences.
  2. The integrity of jury deliberations is protected from postverdict scrutiny under Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) as it maintains finality and public trust in the jury system.
  3. The legislative history of Rule 606(b) demonstrates a clear intent to maintain the common-law rule against admitting juror testimony to impeach a verdict except in cases of extraneous influences.

Relevant FAQs of this case

How does juror misconduct outside the scope of Rule 606(b) affect the integrity of a verdict?

Juror misconduct not covered by Rule 606(b), such as private communications, premature deliberations, or other non-coercive outside influences, generally cannot be used to challenge a verdict as it is considered an internal matter. The rule aims to protect the sanctity and confidentiality of jury deliberations, prevent harassment of jurors post-verdict, and maintain the stability of final verdicts.

  • For example: If a juror discusses aspects of the case with a spouse at home during the trial but does not introduce any new evidence or external influence, this would typically not be grounds to impeach the verdict.

What measures can courts take to mitigate potential improper influence on jurors from external sources during a trial?

Courts can issue sequestration orders to isolate jurors from outside contact, provide jurors with explicit instructions not to discuss the case with non-jurors or consume media related to the case, monitor juror behavior during trial recesses, and debrief jurors post-trial to identify any misconduct.

  • For example: In a high-profile criminal case, the court may sequester the jury to prevent exposure to prejudicial media coverage which could influence their impartiality.

What exceptions exist under Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) that allow juror testimony to challenge a verdict?

Rule 606(b) permits juror testimony in cases where extraneous prejudicial information has made its way to the jury or where an outside influence was improperly brought to bear upon one or more jurors. This could include instances where jurors are exposed to inadmissible evidence or contacted by third parties attempting to sway their opinion.

  • For example: If a juror receives unsolicited emails providing new information about the defendant that was not presented in court, this could be grounds for a new trial.


Last updated

Was this case brief helpful?

More Case Briefs in Civil Procedure