Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado

A Colorado jury convicted Peña-Rodriguez of harassment and unlawful sexual contact. Following the jury’s discharge, two jurors told defense counsel that, during deliberations, Juror H.C. had expressed anti-Hispanic bias toward Peña-Rodriguez and his alibi witness. Counsel, with court supervision, obtained affidavits from the two jurors describing H.C.'s biased statements. The court acknowledged H.C.’s apparent bias but denied a motion for a new trial, stating that Colorado Rule of Evidence 606(b) generally prohibits a juror from testifying as to statements made during deliberations during an inquiry into the validity of the verdict. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed, citing Supreme Court precedent rejecting constitutional challenges to the federal no-impeachment. The Supreme Court reversed. Where a juror makes a clear statement indicating that he relied on racial stereotypes or animus to convict a defendant, the Sixth Amendment requires that the no-impeachment rule give way. The Court noted that it has previously indicated that the rule may have exceptions for “juror bias so extreme that, almost by definition, the jury trial right has been abridged” and that racial bias, unlike the behavior in previous cases, implicates unique historical, constitutional, and institutional concerns that, unaddressed, threaten systemic injury to the administration of justice. Before the no-impeachment bar can be set aside, there must be a threshold showing that a juror made statements exhibiting overt racial bias that cast serious doubt on the fairness and impartiality of deliberations and verdict. The statement must tend to show that racial animus was a significant motivating factor in the juror’s vote to convict. The Court did not address what procedures a court must follow when deciding a motion for a new trial based on juror testimony of racial bias or the appropriate standard for determining when such evidence is sufficient to require that the verdict be set aside. View "Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado" on Justia Law