Monday, March 6, 2017
Amy Howe for SCOTUSBlog analyzes the Supreme Court's decision today in Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado. In that case, a Colorado man who was required to register as a sex offender after being convicted of unlawful sexual contact with two teenage girls will get a shot at a new trial, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled today. Miguel Peña-Rodriguez had asked a state trial court for a new trial after two jurors told his lawyers that a third juror had made racially biased remarks about Peña-Rodriguez and his main witness, who are both Hispanic. One of the remarks was that the witness could not be trusted because he was an "illegal" when he in fact was a lawful permanent resident.
The state trial court rejected Peña-Rodriguez’s request, citing a state evidentiary rule that generally bars jurors from testifying about statements made during deliberations that might call the verdict into question. In a major ruling on juror bias and fair trials, the Supreme Court reversed that holding by a vote of 5-3 and sent Peña-Rodriguez’s case back to the lower courts for them to consider the two jurors’ testimony for the first time.