Supreme Court to Deliberate on Racial Bias Among Jurors

Up to this point, the United States Supreme Court has said that even grievous misconduct in the jury room can’t be used to challenge a conviction if it would require jurors to testify about what was said there.  But the court has never completely dealt with whether racial or ethnic prejudice requires an exception to the general rule.

In the case Peña Rodriguez v. Colorado, which will be argued October 11, 2016, the Supreme Court will consider whether Mr. Peña Rodriguez can challenge his conviction based on one of the juror’s statements. The juror, referred to as H.C., made comments such as “I think he did it because he’s Mexican, and Mexican men take whatever they want.”  The case will require justices to choose between keeping jury deliberations secret and sustaining the 6th Amendment’s promise of an impartial jury.

In 2014, in Warger v. Shauers, the Supreme Court ruled that jurors may not testify about what went on during deliberations, even to expose dishonesty during jury selection.  In the decision, Justice Sotomayor suggested that cases involving racial bias may require a different result.  In this case, Mr. Peña Rodriguez was convicted of harassing and trying to grope two teenage sisters.  A defense witness testified that he was elsewhere at the time of the assault.  The juror, H.C., was not persuaded and said “He did not think the alibi witness was credible because he was an ‘illegal’”.

Finding jury discrimination is very important when selecting a jury for trial and Henrichsen Siegel is focused on selecting an unprejudiced jury for cases.

Read the article here.

Update: The Supreme Court has ruled, in a 5-to-3 decision, that courts must make an exception to the rule that jury deliberations are secret when evidence emerges that those discussions were marred by racial or ethnic bias.

Justice Kennedy wrote that “For the inquiry to proceed, there must be a showing that one or more jurors made statements exhibiting overt racial bias that cost serious doubt on the fairness and impartiality of the jury’s deliberations and resulting verdict”.