to the Colorado Court of Appeals Court of Appeals Case No.
Attorneys for Petitioner: Cynthia H. Coffman Rebecca A. Adams
Attorneys for Respondent: Douglas K. Wilson Andrew C. Heher
MÁRQUEZ JUSTICE and GABRIEL JUSTICE join in the
This case requires us to determine whether a trial court
abused its discretion by refusing to poll the jury about
whether jurors had seen a prejudicial news report that had
aired the night before and been posted online. Because the
trial court gave repeated, specific admonitions-including on
the day of the newscast-to jurors to avoid
"newscasts" and "newspaper sites, " and
these were the only places on which the prejudicial report
was available, we hold that the trial court did not abuse its
discretion when it refused to poll jurors. Therefore, we
reverse the court of appeals and affirm the defendant's
Facts and Procedural History
A jury convicted the defendant, Sandra L. Jacobson, of
vehicular homicide, driving under the influence, and other
related charges arising from a collision between her truck
and a taxi cab. The collision killed two of the passengers in
During the jury selection process, a prospective juror asked
the trial court why the jury has to avoid media coverage of
the trial, and the trial court explained:
There have been jury verdicts in death penalty cases in
Colorado reversed because jurors did their own research and
brought things into the jury room. All around the country it
is becoming a greater and growing problem of jurors who seem
to not understand that no communication means no
communication when you are on a jury.
I realize that is hard to deal with in an era where we have
got so much electronic availability literally at our fingers.
Remember what I said earlier, you have to base your verdict
only on the evidence that you hear in the courtroom in this
case. And that means you can't get information that might
impact that from any other source.
If that means that for seven days or so you don't read
the Denver Post, you don't look at a newspaper, you
don't go on the Internet to see what's going on,
that's what it means. And I realize it is hard and it may
sound stupid, but it is the essence of one part of what we
are doing here which is to guarantee a fair trial. And that
any decision the jury makes here be made only on the basis of
the evidence that comes in at this-in this trial in this
On the first day of trial, the trial court admonished the
jury to avoid media coverage of the trial:
You must not read, view, or listen to any reports about this
case in the press or on radio, television, or any other
media. And in this day and age, that includes things like
Facebook, Twitter, text messages, blogging, and so forth. If
you're watching the news and you see something coming on
about the Jacobson case, turn the television off. If
you're reading the newspaper, don't read any articles
about this case.
the trial, the trial court reminded the jury daily of the
need to avoid all coverage involving Jacobson or the case.
During the trial, while the prosecution was presenting its
case, the trial court was notified that a local news channel
would be running a segment about the case and posting a story
about the case online. The trial court, having previously
admonished the jury to avoid news coverage of the case, gave
a more specific admonition that day:
I want to suggest to you-you know, I've been giving you
this admonition every night when you leave, but I want to
sort of-I'm going to emphasize it again tonight. We are
rapidly approaching the end of the People's evidence. I
cannot be sure when it's going to be over but I think
we're getting close to that. It's vitally important,
as we move toward the end of this trial, that you remember
the admonition that I gave you: No TV; no Internet; no radio.
I know you may feel like you're living on another planet
but if you're going to do any of those things, avoid
newscasts, avoid newspaper sites.
There's plenty to watch on television and plenty to see
on the Internet and plenty to listen to on the radio that
doesn't involve news. Please avoid those things, as we
(Emphasis added). In response to the admonition, several
jurors nodded their heads affirmatively with serious looks on
their faces. The next morning, the trial court and defense
counsel discussed the newscast, which had mentioned several
prejudicial aspects of the case not presented to the jury,
including references to Jacobson's past driving under the
influence convictions and traffic accidents.
Defense counsel suggested that the court poll the jury about
whether any jurors had seen the newscast or online article.
However, the trial court declined to do so, noting (1) its
specific, previous admonitions; (2) the jurors'
affirmative responses and serious demeanor in response to
those admonitions; and (3) that polling the jury about a
specific newscast now would be like "dangling a cookie
under a two-year old's nose." Twice later that
day-before lunch and at the end of the day-the court again
admonished the jury to avoid media of any type.
On appeal, the court of appeals reversed Jacobson's
convictions and held that, under Harper v. People,
817 P.2d 77 (Colo. 1991), a new trial was required because
the trial court abused its discretion by declining to poll
the jury about whether any jurors had seen or read a
prejudicial news report that a local news channel had
aired-and posted online-the night before. People v.
Jacobson, 2014 COA 149, ¶¶ 2, 30, ___ P.3d___.
The prosecution sought certiorari from this court, which we
After hearing arguments from both parties, we hold that it
could not reasonably be believed that the news reports came
to the jury's attention. Because we disagree with the
court of appeals' conclusion, we now reverse the court of
appeals and affirm Jacobson's convictions.
Trial courts have "broad discretion in deciding the
ultimate issue of whether the media reports prejudiced the
defendant's right to a fair trial." Harper,
817 P.2d at 83- 84. Therefore, we review the trial
court's decision not to poll the jury for an abuse of
In Harper, this court laid out a three-step process
for trial courts to follow when a prejudicial news report
comes out during the course of a trial. Id. at 83.
First, the trial court should determine whether the coverage
is actually prejudicial and contains inadmissible evidence.
Id. Second, if the report could prejudice the jury,
the court should canvass the jury to learn if any of them
learned of any impermissible information. Id.
Finally, if any jurors admit to learning of outside
information, the court should question them outside ...