SWARTZ HEARINGS; ADDRESSING CLAIMS OF JURY MISCONDUCT
From MN Bench Book - Trial Procedures & Practices for Judges
Purpose of Schwartz Hearings
Jury impropriety is a serious concern. Ex parte contacts, outside influences, exposure to inadmissible evidence, and biased intents or beliefs can affect the validity of the verdict. The proper investigatory procedure is colloquially known as a “Schwartz hearing.”
The purpose of a Schwartz hearing is to determine whether a jury verdict is the product of misconduct.
Generally, Schwartz hearings are conducted to investigate potential juror misconduct, but alleged judicial misconduct may also be the basis for a Schwartz hearing. 
Schwartz Hearing Procedures
For a Schwartz hearing to be required, the defendant must submit sufficient evidence that, if unchallenged, would warrant the conclusion that misconduct tainted the jury’s verdict.
When possible misconduct is made known to either party, or directly to the court, and passes a prima facie analysis, the court is required to hold, on its own motion, a Schwartz hearing. The Court is encouraged to be liberal when granting a hearing.
While the procedure is largely at the discretion of the court, there are several guidelines:
- (1) The jurors are to be interrogated by the court directly.
- (2) Counsel should never interrogate a juror when investigating possible misconduct. “The ‘better practice’ is to bring the matter to the attention of the court, and if the facts justify it, the court may then ‘summon the juror before him and permit an examination in the presence of counsel for all interested parties and the trial judge under proper safeguards.’”
- (3) The court must enquire into both the influence, and also ascertain whether the possible prejudice did occur.
- (4) The juror may only testify as to whether “extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jury's attention or whether any outside influence was improperly brought to bear upon any juror.”
- (5) A juror alleging misconduct by other jurors should be interrogated outside of the presence of the other jurors.
Rule 6.06(b) limits proof available to establish jury misconduct. There are three exceptions:
- (1) Extraneous prejudicial information;
- (2) Outside influence;
- (3) Threats of violence or violence.
Improper discussion of race generally falls into extraneous prejudicial information. State v. Bowles, 530 N.W.2d 521 (Minn. 1995).
Can a Defendant Forfeit a Schwartz Hearing?
A defendant forfeits a Schwartz hearing if he interrogates the jurors before giving the court a chance:
- The time when a verdict loser should approach the court to request a Schwartz hearing should be when the first suspicion of misconduct arises. Nothing should prevent the trial court from ordering a Schwartz hearing on the grounds of an oral assertion by counsel or hearsay affidavit. A defeated litigant’s attorney should never interrogate a juror or telephone him for the purpose of gathering evidence for a request for a Schwartz hearing. Nor should an attorney have an investigator do this on his behalf. . . . Attorneys should not be allowed to contact and harass jurors who render verdicts of a non-suspicious nature.
- See Schwartz v. Minneapolis Suburban Bus Co.,104 N.W. 2d 301, (1960).
- See State v. Greer, 635 N.W.2d 82, 93 (Minn. 2001).
- See State v. Rainer, 411 N.W.2d 490, 498 (Minn. 1987). See also State v. Stofflet, 281 N.W.2d 494 (Minn. 1979) ("Schwartz hearing should be liberally granted where the defendant relies on an exception to the general rule against juror self-impeachment by allowing testimony concerning extraneous prejudicial information or outside influences.").
- State v. Larson, 281 N.W. 2d 481, (Minn. 1979).
- See Baker v. Gile, 257 N.W.2d 376 (Minn. 1977).