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Manslaughter Conviction Reversed: Jury Discussed Punishment

California v. Flores Docket: C089569 (Third Appellate District), Opinion Date: October 8, 2021. Defendant Michael Flores was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, among other crimes, after the jury initially declared it was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Defendant moved for a new trial based on evidence the jury considered defendant’s sentence in determining the verdict. The jurors’ declarations in support of the new trial motion showed the jury was at an impasse between second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter and shortly after discussing the possibility defendant would “walk” if it were to hang, the jury found defendant guilty of voluntary manslaughter. The trial court denied defendant’s new trial motion, finding inadmissible any evidence of the jury’s deliberations regarding punishment and that discussing punishment during deliberations was not misconduct. The Court of Appeal reversed, finding: (1) the trial court erred in finding inadmissible the entire contents of the jurors’ declarations submitted in support of the new trial motion; (2) consideration of the admissible portions of the jurors’ declarations establish misconduct occurred, raising a rebuttable presumption of prejudice; and (3) the State failed to rebut the presumption of prejudice.

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