Friday, July 16, 2021
Western District of Virginia Finds Jurors Accusing Latinx Juror of Applying Mexican Law Doesn't Trigger Pena-Rodriguez
Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) states the following:
(b) During an Inquiry into the Validity of a Verdict or Indictment.
(1) Prohibited Testimony or Other Evidence. During an inquiry into the validity of a verdict or indictment, a juror may not testify about any statement made or incident that occurred during the jury’s deliberations; the effect of anything on that juror’s or another juror’s vote; or any juror’s mental processes concerning the verdict or indictment. The court may not receive a juror’s affidavit or evidence of a juror’s statement on these matters.
(2) Exceptions. A juror may testify about whether:
(A) extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jury’s attention;
(B) an outside influence was improperly brought to bear on any juror; or
(C) a mistake was made in entering the verdict on the verdict form.
Moreover, in Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado, 137 S. Ct. 855, 861 (2017), the Supreme Court recognized a Constitutional exception to this rule prohibiting jury impeachment. Specifically, "where a juror makes a clear statement that indicates he or she relied on racial stereotypes or animus to convict a criminal defendant, the Sixth Amendment requires that the no-impeachment rule give way in order to permit the trial court to consider the evidence of the juror's statement and any resulting denial of the jury trial guarantee."
So, was this Constitutional exception triggered in United States v. Brown, 2021 WL 2981207 (W.D. Virginia 2021)?
In Brown, Tracy Leonard Brown was charged with five drug crimes. During jury deliberations, the jury forepeson sent the judge a note stating:
There is a juror who refuses to see anyone else's opinion & will not budge in his own. This is not allowing for any forward movement of the decisions. The juror keeps referring to Mexican law. He will not accept any evidence being shown to him. What should we do about this situation?
The judge then reminded the jurors of their "solemn oath" to "try the issues in this case according to the law that I instructed you about." The jury subsequently found Brown guilty on four of the five charges. Subsequently, Juror A, a Latinx male, submitted a declaration stating
that he was “mocked and intimidated” and that “[j]urors used my accent, and Mexican heritage to suggest that I was trying to apply Mexican law to the case.”....He further stated that he had been “accused of not liking police officers and told that I must think cops are crooked.”....He claimed that one juror “told me that he knew where I lived. He also told me about his guns. Later in deliberations he left his chair, walked toward me, puffed out his chest in my face and took an aggressive stand while we discussed our opinions.”...“A different juror told me I had to say yes and agree with the other jurors.”
In rejecting Brown's claim that this declaration triggered the Constitutional exception, the court held as follows:
I do not find that Juror A's declaration has satisfied the first prong by indicating racial animus. In Peña-Rodriguez, the Court held that “where a juror makes a clear statement that indicates he or she relied on racial stereotypes or animus to convict a criminal defendant, the Sixth Amendment requires that the no-impeachment rule give way in order to permit the trial court to consider the evidence of the juror's statement and any resulting denial of the jury trial guarantee.”...The fact that Juror A, a Latinx, disagrees with the remaining members of the jury that he was attempting to apply Mexican law to the case does not clearly implicate racial stereotypes or animus.
Moreover, defendant Brown has not shown that any claimed racial animus played a “significant motivating factor” in their decision to convict....Although the Supreme Court did not explicitly foreclose the admissibility of statements evidencing intra-jury racial animus in Peña-Rodriguez, the comments must have nevertheless influenced the jury's verdict to be admissible....Brown has failed to articulate that causal connection. He has simply not shown how the jurors' alleged use of a racial stereotype against another juror, of a different race than his own, caused them to “conclude [he] was guilty,”...“disregard[ ]” evidence or argument,....or be unable to impartially assess his credibility....
It is unequivocal that “racial bias in the justice system breeds a systemic loss of confidence in jury verdicts, a confidence that is a central premise of the Sixth Amendment trial right.”...But absent a nexus to show if or how racial animus impacted the verdict in this case, Brown has not made a threshold showing to admit such testimony under Peña-Rodriguez..