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United States v. Aiyer

United States District Court, S.D. New York

January 14, 2020

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
AKSHAY AIYER, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          John G. Koeltl United States District Judge.

         On November 26, 2019, after a three-week trial, the jury returned a verdict of guilty against the defendant Akshay Aiyer for one count of conspiracy in restraint of trade in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1, the Sherman Act. The verdict was signed by all the jurors and confirmed by a poll of the jurors in open court. Following the verdict, a number of allegations of juror misconduct came to the Court's attention. In response to the allegations and after hearing from the parties about all open matters, on December 13, 2019 the Court conducted an interview with Juror No. 3 in connection with the allegations. At this time, the Court declines to conduct further inquiries or grant any relief to the defendant in connection with the allegations of juror misconduct.

         I.

         A.

         On November 26, 2019, the same day the jury returned its verdict, Juror No. 6 sent a letter to the Court. As was the case for all jurors, Juror No. 6 had signed the verdict form and responded to the poll in open court affirming the verdict.

         The letter made a series of allegations. Some of the allegations were that other jurors pressured Juror No. 6 into voting for a guilty verdict and that Juror No. 6 eventually acquiesced. The letter also described an incident in which Juror No. 5 asked Juror No. 6 if Juror No. 6 had taken the elevator with the defendant. The comment occurred after Juror No. 6 tried to request evidence during deliberation to support his concerns with a guilty verdict. The letter reported that at another time, Juror No. 3 noted that the defendant and someone in the gallery whom the juror mistook for the defendant's brother, smiled at a good defense examination of a witness. At that time, Juror No. 3 allegedly had commented: “They smile now, but they wouldn't be smiling at the end of this.” The letter also described comments made by Juror No. 3 about the Court's instructions not to consult outside sources during the trial. Allegedly, at one point during the trial, Juror No. 6 overheard Juror No. 3 say to Juror No. 1: “The judge said we cannot talk about or lookup information about the case, he never said that my girlfriend can't” and “even my boss looked up the case.” Additionally, Juror No. 3 allegedly stated at another point that “he had looked up information on members of the counsel, . . . and one member of the counsel looked skinny in her picture.” Finally, the letter suggested that various jurors were puzzled by the Court's instructions during deliberation and that most of the deliberation was spent trying to understand what the Court's instructions meant on various issues of law.

         After the Court brought the letter to the attention of the parties, the parties made submissions to the Court. In one submission, the defense brought to the attention of the Court another instance of alleged juror misconduct about which the defense became aware only after Juror No. 6's letter. The allegation was that Juror No. 4 had recorded a number of podcasts during and after the trial as part of a standing weekly podcast series that Juror No. 4 released on Spotify, YouTube, and the Apple Podcast Application. For portions of these podcasts, Juror No. 4 referred to his jury service and commented on certain aspects of the case. During the trial, Juror No. 4 recorded three podcasts. His trial-related discussions primarily concerned his dismay at having been selected as a juror, the fact that it was boring to be a juror, and the fact that the judicial system should not be set up in such a way that defendants are sent to prison, or not, based upon the decision of jurors who are often bored and do not wish to be present in court. In the mid-trial podcasts, Juror No. 4 frequently mentioned the fact that he wished to say more about the trial but that he did not know how much he was allowed to say during the trial. Therefore, he stated repeatedly that he would save many of his observations until the trial had concluded.

         In the one post-trial podcast in which he discussed his service, the Juror discussed briefly the fact that the defendant had been found guilty, that the Juror believed the defendant was, in fact, guilty, and that the Juror nonetheless felt badly that the defendant would be sent to prison. To the extent the Juror discussed the trial beyond that, the Juror spent the bulk of the post-trial podcasts making a number of comments about the physical appearance and demeanor of counsel for both parties, the trial judge, and the Court's staff.

         All the podcasts were recorded by the Juror and consisted of the Juror talking uninterrupted for about an hour without soliciting comments from any person or speaking with any other person.

         Additionally, it was brought to the attention of the Court that Juror No. 4 and Juror No. 3 had connected on social media after the trial.

         B.

         Thus, the Court became aware of the following four categories of allegations of juror misconduct after the verdict was returned: 1) the allegations of juror bias against the defendant as described in Juror No. 6's letter; 2) allegations of misconduct during deliberation, including that Juror No. 6 was pressured during deliberations to return a guilty verdict and not to inquire about further evidence, as well as allegations of juror confusion during deliberations; 3) allegations that extraneous information about the case and parties reached Juror No. 3 during the course of the trial, including, but not limited to, a picture of defense counsel; and 4) allegations that Juror No. 4's social media use during and after trial constitutes misconduct, namely the podcasts he put out during and after trial and the fact that he connected with Juror No. 3 through social media after the trial.

         The first, second, and fourth categories did not require further inquiry for reasons explained below. The third category did require further inquiry. After conducting an interview with Juror No. 3, the ...


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