Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument in Racial Bias in Jury Deliberations Case

The Supreme Court is hearing Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado, a case addressing racial bias in jury deliberations. The question before the Supreme Court is whether whether a no-impeachment rule constitutionally may bar evidence of racial bias offered to prove a violation of the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury.

In Peña- Rodriguez, a Latino defendant was convicted of sexual assault. Following 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, such as, “I think he did it because he’s Mexican, and Mexican men take whatever they want.” Peña-Rodriguez moved for a new hearing, alleging this racial bias violated his Sixth Amendment right to a fair and impartial trial. Notwithstanding two juror affidavits in support of his motion for a new, fair trial, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) “precludes courts from peering beyond the veil that shrouds jury deliberations.”

LDF, along with the ACLU and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, authored an amicus brief that argues that the right to an impartial jury includes one free from racial bias and excluding evidence of such discrimination would undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system.

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Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.

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