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Liliana Zaragoza in Alliance for Justice: Race Discrimination in Court Trials Must be Eliminated "Root and Branch"

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado and the Persistence of Racial Bias in the Criminal Justice System 

Last week the Court heard argument in Buck v. Davis, a case in which Duane Buck was sentenced to death because his own counsel relied on an expert witness who testified that because Mr. Buck was African-American, he was more likely to commit future acts of violence. In that case, a jury finding of future dangerousness was a prerequisite to imposing a death sentence and the indefensible testimony—presented to the jury both orally at trial, as well as in a written report they specifically requested during deliberations—sealed Mr. Buck’s fate on death row. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Mr. Buck’s right to appeal his sentence.

Today the Court will again face a case in which the defendant’s fate was tainted by abhorrent, explicit racial bias, this time in the context of jury deliberations. In Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado, a Latino defendant was convicted of sexual assault. After the conviction, two jurors came forward and submitted sworn statements attesting that a fellow juror, identified as H.C., had made several overtly racist statements during deliberations. Among those statements was one in which  H.C. declared to his peers, “I think he did it because he’s Mexican, and Mexican men take whatever they want”; that “9 times out of 10 Mexican men were guilty of being aggressive toward women and young girls”; and that he did not trust Mr. Peña-Rodriguez’s alibi witness because “he was an ‘illegal,’” when in fact the witness was a lawful permanent resident.

Read Liliana Zaragoza's full blog post here.