Juror’s Experiment Overlooked In Vehicular Homicide Case

During a D.U.I. /O.V.I. trial, jurors are instructed to limit their deliberations to the evidence presented in court. In fact, they are specifically instructed not to investigate or conduct their own experiments. In the recent high-profile trial of John Goodman, a juror ignored that instruction and conducted an experiment regarding the effects of drinking vodka.

In February of 2010, John Goodman was driving his Bentley when he rear-ended a Hyundai driven by Scott Wilson. Wilson’s car went into a canal, and Wilson drowned. Goodman, the multi-millionaire founder of the International Polo Club Palm Beach, left the scene without calling 911. He was charged with D.U.I. Manslaughter and Vehicular Homicide.

During Goodman’s trial, the judge instructed the jurors not to conduct any experiments or outside research, and to limit their deliberations to evidence presented in the courtroom. One juror, however, conducted an experiment to understand the effects of drinking three vodka and tonics. The next day, the jury concluded deliberations, and Goodman was found guilty of both charges.

The experimenting juror quickly wrote a book about his experience. In his book, the juror wrote, “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”, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Goodman’s D.U.I. attorney learned of the experiment and asked the judge to declare a mistrial.

In Ohio D.U.I. /O.V.I. and Vehicular Homicide cases, jurors are given the following instruction when jurors are permitted to go home at night: “During your absence remember that you are a member of a deliberating body. You may not investigate or attempt to obtain additional facts about this case. It would be improper if any of you attempted to do so.” Jurors are also instructed regarding reaching conclusions about the case before deliberations: “Do not form or express any opinion on this case until it is finally submitted to you.”

The juror in the Goodman case violated the jury instructions: he “investigated or attempted to obtain additional facts about the case”. In the juror’s words, according to the Sun Sentinel, “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.” The juror also formed an opinion before the jury deliberations were concluded. In his book, he wrote that the jurors concluded Goodman was “not fit to drive” and added (with underlining), “I surely decided that the night before”.

At Goodman’s sentence hearing, the judge first held a hearing on defense counsel’s motion for a new trial. The judge concluded that the juror’s experiment did not adulterate the jury deliberation process, so the guilty verdicts were not invalidated. The judge sentenced Goodman to 16 years in prison. Goodman is also being sued for wrongful death by Scott Wilson’s family. Goodman adopted his 42-year-old girlfriend, according to the Palm Beach Post, possibly as a way to shield his assets from being awarded in the civil suit.