Drug conviction tossed because alternate juror joined in deliberations


LITTLE ROCK — A federal appeals court on Thursday overturned a Little Rock man’s conviction on a drug charge, finding that an error occurred when an alternate juror took part in deliberations at his trial.

The 8th. U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ordered a new trial for Manuel Maldonado Aguilar, who was arrested at his Little Rock home in August 2011 and later convicted in U.S. District Court of conspiracy to possess methamphetamine with intent to distribute.

Aguilar and the government agreed that a procedural rule was violated when an alternate juror sat in on deliberations, but the government argued that he was not prejudiced by the error. In February the 8th Circuit sent the case back to federal court in Little Rock for new proceedings to determine of whether the alternate juror participated in the deliberations.

A federal judge determined that the juror asked questions during deliberations but did not express her views regarding guilt or innocence and did not take part in voting.

A three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit said Thursday that because the alternative did not just observe but actually participated, the error was prejudicial.