There is an interesting challenge to the conviction of John Goodman, the creepy multimillionaire who killed a man in a drunken driving accident. He became even more infamous when he adopted his girlfriend to try to protect his wealth from court-ordered damages. Now, his lawyer is seeking to overturn the conviction after a juror, Dennis DeMartin of Delray Beach, wrote a self-published book detailing his experience in the trial. The book includes DeMartin’s account of how he got drunk on the night before the guilty verdict to see how the alcohol would have affected Goodman.
In addition to the satisfaction of the conviction, the Wilson family will receive a $40 million settlement from Goodman’s estate plus an additional $6 million from one of the bars where Goodman was drinking the night of the crash.
Before the trial, Palm Beach Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath gave jurors the standard order not to “experiment” outside of the courthouse on facts or allegations related to the case. DeMartin describes precisely that type of experimentation in drinking three vodkas at home: “It was bothering me that if there was proof that if Mr. Goodman only had 3 or 4 drinks, how drunk would he be? How drunk would I be? I decided to see. . . . At 9pm I had a vodka and tonic, followed by another at 9:30pm and a third at 10pm.” He recounted how he was confused and “When the alarm went off the next morning, I got up and felt relieved. The question in my mind the night before was answered to me. Even if a person is not drunk, 3 or 4 drinks would make it impossible to operate a vehicle. I got dressed and was in a fine frame of mind to go to deliberate the evidence we had.”
Such juror experimentation was lionized in Twelve Angry Men when Juror Number 8 (Henry Fonda) produces a knife that matched the murder weapon that he found near the defendant’s home:
Such experimentation makes for great movies and terrible trials. I would have to agree with Defense counsel that that is irrefutable evidence of juror misconduct. The question is whether it is sufficient now to throw the entire conviction — and expense of trial — out the window. On one hand, the evidence against Goodman was overwhelming and it is doubtful that the experimentation changed his juror’s mind. However, how can we ever really know? DeMartin is entitled to a fair trial based on the evidence of the case without external influence or experimentation. DeMartin details how the experimentation confirmed his view of the inability of Goodman to operate a vehicle. He admitted to relying on evidence outside of the record. While jurors are told to use their experiences and common sense, they are not allowed to create those experiences for the purposes of trial. Thus, some jurors would naturally think about their own experiences with alcohol in reaching a verdict. It is a tough line because jurors were not prohibited from drinking. Having three vodkas would not be viewed as misconduct or even remarkable. However, here it was done for the purposes of confirming allegations in the case. DeMartin drank the specific drinks and amounts to test the defense claims. It is not clear as to the degree that he may have shared those results with the other jurors.
DeMartin has created a terrible muddle in his desire to capitalize on his small role in a high-profile trial. The court could rule that, while clearly misconduct, that the experimentation can sufficiently close to a normal lifestyle experience that it would be treated as harmless error. If a juror mentioned in the jury room that he had drunk similar amounts in the past was not competent to drive, that would not be viewed as misconduct but the sharing of past experiences. In that vein, the court could condemn a clear disregarding of the rules by this juror while refusing to set aside the verdict. However, in my view, it is a close case. What is more clear is that DeMartin acted in contempt of the court order. The question is whether the judge will pursue him to hold him accountable for the breach.
What do you think? Should Goodman be given a new trial?
Source: Sun Sentinel