Washington v. Berhe (Majority and Concurrence)Annotate this Case
A jury convicted petitioner Tomas Berhe of murder and assault. After the trial, juror 6 came forward, alleging that racial bias during jury deliberations influenced the verdict. The trial court denied Berhe's motion for a new trial without an evidentiary hearing, instead relying solely on written declarations prepared with the aid of counsel. The Washington Supreme Court recognized that when allegations of juror misconduct arise after the verdict, trial courts have discretion to determine whether an evidentiary hearing is necessary. “However, there are limits to that discretion, particularly in cases of alleged racial bias that deprives a defendant of his or her constitutional right to a. fair trial by an impartial jury.” In this case, the Supreme Court determined the trial court: (1) did not exercise sufficient oversight of the process, allowing counsel to taint several jurors with inappropriate questions about their deliberations; and (2) the court did not conduct a sufficient inquiry before determining that an evidentiary hearing was unnecessary. The Supreme Court therefore vacated the trial court's order denying Berhe's motion for a new trial and remanded for further inquiry and other proceedings as necessary.