A state appeals court has voided a man's burglary conviction because one of the jurors misled lawyers and wrote a blog about deliberations during the trial.
An unpublished opinion released Thursday by a three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeals found that the defendant, Donald McNeely, must be allowed a hearing to determine whether the jury was biased before the conviction can stand.
According to court documents, a juror who served as foreman bragged in his blog about hiding the fact that he was a licensed attorney during jury selection, instead telling the court that he worked as a project manager for a technology company. "More neutral than lawyer, don't ya think," the man wrote.
He also posted detailed accounts of jury deliberations, writing, "Nowhere do I recall the jury instructions mandating I can't post comments in my blog about the trial. (Ha. Sorry, will do.)"
The trial judge in the case threatened to report the juror to the state bar but accepted the verdict.
McNeely was sentenced under California's three-strikes law to at least 38 years in prison after being found guilty of burglary, grand theft and receiving stolen property in March 2006.
If McNeely is denied a new trial, his conviction on multiple counts of burglary, grand theft and receiving stolen property may be reinstated, according to the court opinion.
McNeely's attorney, Waldemar Halka, said he believes the conviction should have been automatically reversed. He said he plans to ask for a rehearing at the appeals court before the opinion becomes final.
"I think my guy should get a new trial," Halka said. "This whole thing, it just smells bad."
McNeely has not challenged the evidence presented at trial. He was accused of entering guest rooms at two hotels in the La Jolla area in October 2005 and stealing credit cards, laptop computers and digital cameras.
McNeely has 11 prior prison-term convictions, according to prosecutors.