Fleshner v. Pepose Vision Institute: Eviscerating the Mansfield Rule

Robert Buchholz

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Within our judicial system, litigants enjoy a constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury. It has been said that such a right is the touchstone of due process. Nonetheless, important policy considerations, such as finality and candor during jury deliberations, have caused most U.S. jurisdictions to adopt a rule that prohibits receiving juror testimony to impeach verdicts allegedly tainted by juror bias. This rule is known as the Mansfield Rule.
Some courts, however, are beginning to resist blanket application of this rule in certain situations. Specifically, in Fleshner v. Pepose Vision Institute the Missouri Supreme Court held that an independent exception to the Mansfield Rule should be recognized in situations where overt racial, ethnic, or religious comments are made during jury deliberations.
However, the Fleshner court’s rationale is flawed in that the supposed narrowness of the new exception rests precariously on an arbitrary distinction between racial, ethnic, and religious bias and other forms of partiality. To the extent that other types of bias are equally detrimental to parties’ rights to a fair and impartial tribunal, the exception created by the Fleshner court threatens to consume the Mansfield Rule entirely. Although the Fleshner court’s nominal distinction is presently self-contained, the neatness of the decision is sure to dissolve as future courts, applying less arbitrary conventions of legal analysis, look beyond the form of the bias and extend the spirit of Fleshner to other types of prejudice.
46 New Eng. L. Rev. 649

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