Monday, April 4, 2016
Today, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado, a case raising the question whether a rule that no evidence will be taken to impeach a jury verdict may bar evidence of racial bias offered to prove a violation of the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury.
Here are the basic facts. After a jury convicted Pena Rodriguez of unlawful sexual contact and harassment, two jurors provided his lawyer with sworn statements claiming that a third juror made derogatory remarks about Mexican men before voting guilty. "I think he did it because he's Mexican and Mexican men take whatever they want," is one of the statements. In another comment, the juror is said to have cast doubt on an alibi provided by a Hispanic witness for Pena Rodriguez because the witness was "an illegal." The witness had testified that he was in the country legally.
The Colorado Supreme Court (Justice Monica Marquez dissenting) had held that those statements could not be used to upend Pena Rodriguez's conviction because of a long-standing rule that prohibits jurors from testifying about what happens during deliberations. The rule is intended to promote the finality of verdicts and to shield jurors from outside influences.