State v. Salentine, 237 N.C. App. 76 (Oct. 21, 2014)

In a case where the defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the defendant’s mistrial motions based on juror misconduct and refusing the defendant’s request to make further inquiry into whether other jurors received prejudicial outside information. During the sentencing phase of the trial, the trial court received a letter from juror Lloyd’s brother-in-law claiming that Lloyd contacted his sister and said that one juror failed to disclose information during voir dire, that he went online and found information about the defendant, and that he asked his sister the meaning of the term malice. Upon inquiry by the court Lloyd denied that he conducted online research or asked about the meaning of the term malice. The trial court removed Lloyd from the jury and replaced him with an alternate. The defendant moved for a mistrial before and after removal of Lloyd and asked the trial court to make further inquiry of the other jurors to determine if they were exposed to outside information. Given the trial court’s “searching” inquiry of Lloyd, the court found no abuse of discretion. With regard to the trial court’s failure to inquire of the other jurors, the court emphasized that there is no rule that requires a court to hold a hearing to investigate juror misconduct when an allegation is made.