Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Evidence
  • Date Filed: March 6, 2017
  • Case #: 15-606
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Kennedy, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion. Alito, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Roberts, C. J., and Thomas, J., joined.
  • Full Text Opinion

If a juror makes a statement that exhibits overt racial bias and casts serious doubt on the fairness and impartiality of the jury’s deliberations, then the no-impeachment rule must give way to allow the trial court to consider the evidence of the juror’s statement.

A jury found petitioner guilty of unlawful sexual contact and harassment. After the jury was discharged, two jurors informed petitioner’s counsel that during deliberations, another juror expressed anti-Hispanic bias toward petitioner and petitioner’s alibi witness. The trial court reviewed the affidavits of the two jurors, which reported several biased statements made by the other juror. The trial court acknowledged the other juror’s bias, but noted that Colorado Rule of Evidence 606(b) prohibits a juror from testifying as to any statement made during jury deliberations in a proceeding inquiring into the validity of the verdict. The Colorado Court of Appeals and the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed. On certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, the court held that if a juror makes a statement that exhibits overt racial bias and casts serious doubt on the fairness and impartiality of the jury’s deliberations, then the no-impeachment rule must give way to allow the trial court to consider the evidence of the juror’s statement. The no-impeachment rule assures that once a jury enters a verdict, the verdict will not be called into question based on comments made during deliberations. 1975, Congress adopted Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b), which provides a broad no-impeachment rule, with limited exceptions. However, at least 16 jurisdictions recognize an exception to the no-impeachment rule where racial bias played a role in deliberations, as shown by juror testimony. In addition, common law prior to adoption of Federal Rules of Evidence provides that the no-impeachment rule admits exceptions in extreme cases. Citing the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court noted that racial bias implicates unique historical, constitutional, and institutional concerns. Racial bias is harmful to the administration of justice and can’t be remedied by existing safeguards to prevent a biased jury. Therefore, the court must address racial bias to ensure confidence in the jury system. REVERSED AND REMANDED.

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