As a general rule, a juror may not impeach his or her own verdict once the jury has been discharged. This rule serves several purposes: (i) discouraging harassment of jurors by losing parties eager to have their verdicts set aside, (ii) encouraging free and open discussion among jurors, (iii) reducing incentives for jury tampering, (iv) promoting verdict finality, and (v) maintaining the integrity and viability of the jury as a decisionmaking body.25
On the other hand, a party has a right to be adjudged based only on competent evidence presented in open court. To accommodate the conflict between this policy and the policy protecting the sanctity of the jury’s deliberations, a rule has developed whereby inquiry may be made as to any prejudicial extrinsic influence that was brought to bear upon the minds of the jurors, but there may not be any inquiry about the effect of any intrinsic influences upon the jurors’ decisionmaking.26
“Extrinsic influences” include: (i) exposure of jurors to news items about matters pending before the jury, (ii) consideration by the jury of extra-record facts about the case, (iii) communication between third parties and jurors relevant to the case to be decided, and (iv) pressure or partiality on the part of the court. “Intrinsic influences” include discussions among jurors, intimidation or harassment of one juror by another and other intra-jury influences on the verdict.27 Potential drug use by a juror during a trial is also considered an intrinsic influence.28 Even when inquiring about prejudicial extraneous influences, inquiry may not be had into a juror’s mental processes or the effect thereon of the extraneous influences.29
A party who wishes to impeach the verdict based on extraneous prejudicial influence upon a jury must show either actual prejudice or a reasonable probability of juror taint due to egregious circumstances that are inherently prejudicial.30 The decision whether to summon the jurors to inquire into possible taint is within the discretion of the trial court.31 The test is whether the moving part has shown good cause to have the court inquire further into the conduct of the jurors.32
25. Flonnory v. State, 778 A.2d 1044, 1053 n.19 (Del. 2001); Claudio v. State, 585 A.2d 1278, 1302 n. 64 (Del. 1991); Sheeran v. State, 526 A.2d 886, 894 (Del. 1987); McLain v. General Motors Corp., 586 A.2d 647, 649-5 1 (Del. Super. 1988).
26. D.R.E. 606(b); Flonnory v. State, 778 A.2d 1044, 1053-54 (Del. 2001); Massey v. State, 541 A.2d 1254, 1257 (Del. 1988); Sheeran v. State, 526 A.2d 886, 894-95 (Del. 1987); Barnes v. Toppin, 482 A.2d 749, 753-54 (Del. 1984); McLain v. General Motors Corp., 586 A.2d 647, 65 1-52 (Del. Super. 1988).
27. Sheeran v. State, 526 A.2d 886, 895 (Del. 1987); McLain v. General Motors Corp., 586 A.2d 647 (Del. Super. 1988).
28. Banther v. State, 823 A.2d 467, 479 (Del. 2003).
29. Massey v. State, 541 A.2d 1254, 1257 (Del. 1988); McLain v. General Motors Corp., 586 A.2d 647, 651 (Del. Super. 1988).
30. Capano v. State, 781 A.2d 556, 645 (Del. 2001); Flonnory v. State, 778 A.2d 1044, 1054 (Del. 2001); Massey v. State, 541 A.2d 1254, 1257-59 (Del. 1988).
31. Capano v. State, 781 A.2d 556, 641 (Del. 2001); Sheeran v. State, 526 A.2d 886, 897 (Del. 1987); Lovett v. State, 516 A.2d 455, 475 (Del. 1986), cert. denied, 481 U.S. 1018 (1987); Styler v. State, 417 A.2d 948, 953 (Del. 1980); McLain v. General Motors Corp., 586 A.2d 647, 653 (Del. Super. 1988); State v. Chisum, Cr. A. No. 1K91-04-0012, slip op. at 2, Steele, 3. (Del. Super. Sept. 19, 1991), aff’d mem., 612 A.2d 157 (Del. 1992); State v. Critchley, Cr. A. Nos, 1N88-02-0l70-0173, slip op. at 2, Herlihy, J. (Del. Super. May 16, 1991), aff’d mem., 608 A.2d 726 (Del. 1992).
32. State v. Cabrera, 984 A.2d 149, 173 (Del. Super. 2008).
© 2010 David L. Finger