Society

Juror's Racial Bias Comments Should Be Disclosed

| by Nicholas Roberts
U.S. Supreme CourtU.S. Supreme Court

The Supreme Court will soon hear the case of Pena Rodriguez v. Colorado, which will determine whether or not racially charged comments made by jurors during deliberations can supersede "no-impeachment," which prohibits the admission of juror testimony regarding statements made during deliberations.

The Court is right to take up the case, as racist jurors compromise the impartiality of the justice system and help erode public trust in it.  If an individual juror's decision is based on outdated and racist pathologies rather than the facts of the case at hand, this should be disclosed to the court hearing the case.

In the case of Rodriguez v. Colorado, Miguel Rodriguez was convicted on sexual harassment charges involving teenage sisters at a horse-race track near Denver, according to The Denver Post.  He was sentenced to two years of probation in 2010 and has since completed his sentence, but he appealed the case when two jurors came forward to accuse a third one of making racially charged comments during deliberations.

The juror, identified only by the initials 'H.C.,' reportedly made several of the comments according to The Associated Press: He first said, "I think he did it because he's Mexican and Mexican men take whatever they want," and then later went on to say that he doubted the alibi of a Hispanic witness for Rodriguez because the witness was "an illegal," even though the witness testified to being in the U.S. legally.

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Three separate courts in Colorado upheld Rodriguez's sentence under the no-impeachment rule, which is found in most states and is meant to protect jurors from outside influences.

And yet racial discrimination is an undeniable reality in courtrooms across the U.S.  Prosecutors routinely try to assemble all-white juries and turn away potential black and Hispanic jurors to get easy convictions.  2015's Foster v. Chatman was particularly egregious; in that case, Georgia prosecutors removed four black jurors from the jury pool specifically because they were black, which was discovered years after the fact by the plaintiff's attorneys.

The claims that America is colorblind and the idea that people who believe there is still racism in the United States "just need to get over it, it's in the past" are convenient for obfuscating the truth about the often perverted nature of America's justice system and the racial world views straight out of the 19th century which often prevail in jury deliberations.

In Rodriguez's case, multiple courts held that he was guilty of his crime regardless of any racially-charged comments made by the jurors.  But the fact that at least one juror made his decision so blatantly based on the idea that the defendant's guilt was solely tied to his race casts doubt on the attitudes of other jurors, and forces the observer to question the integrity of the jury.

Ultimately, the no-impeachment rule should be maintained, but there should be an exception made when jurors are blatantly and egregiously basing their judgment on the defendant's race.  It is not that such jurors should not be able to do so if they truly believe a defendant's actions is based on his or her race, but that information should be disclosed to the court and admissible as testimony from other jurors.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: Associated Press via ABC News, Denver Post / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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