High Court to Consider Juror Bias Claims

     (CN) – The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a case asking whether accusations of a juror’s racial bias outweigh the need for privacy in jury deliberations.
     In 2007, two teenage girls identified Miguel Pena-Rodriguez as the man who allegedly made sexual advances toward them in the bathroom of a horse-racing facility where he worked.
     Pena-Rodriguez faced charges of attempted sexual assault on a child, unlawful sexual contact and harassment.
     After a three-day trial, a jury found him guilty of unlawful sexual contact and harassment. Two weeks later, he filed a motion for juror contact information, claiming that some jurors “used ethnic slurs in the course of deliberations,” according to court records.
     The judge in Pena-Rodriguez’s case asked for an affidavit to describe his allegations, and his counsel submitted one claiming that two jurors said “some of the other jurors expressed a bias toward [Pena-Rodriguez] and the alibi witness because they were Hispanic.”
     Pena-Rodriguez’s attorney got the green light to contact them and get affidavits about the allegedly biased jury.
     One juror identified as M.M. in court records claimed that another, H.C., said, “I think he did it because he’s Mexican and Mexican men take whatever they want.”
     M.M. also alleged that H.C. “made other statements concerning Mexican men being physically controlling of women because they have a sense of entitlement and think they can ‘do whatever they want’ with women,” according to court records.
     Another juror, L.T., corroborated M.M.’s allegations and claimed H.C. “believed that [Pena-Rodriguez] was guilty because in his experience as an ex-law enforcement officer, Mexican men had a bravado that caused them to believe they could do whatever they wanted with women,” court records show.
     The trial court refused to consider the affidavits, finding that Colorado rules of evidence barred the inquiry into H.C.’s alleged bias during jury deliberations. A divided Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed, as did the state’s highest court.
     “CRE 606(b) operates to ensure that the privacy of jury deliberations remains sacrosanct. The rule, and the policy it buttresses, is squarely on point in this case,” Chief Justice Nancy Rice wrote for a divided en banc Colorado Supreme Court last May. “We thus hold that the jurors’ affidavits regarding H.C.’s biased statements fall within the broad sweep of CRE 606(b) and that they do not satisfy the rule’s ‘extraneous prejudicial information’ exception. We further hold that the trial court’s application of CRE 606(b) did not violate Petitioner’s Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury.”
     But Justice Monica Marquez, joined by Justices Allison Eid and William Hood, dissented.
     “According to the two post-verdict affidavits, juror H.C. expressed in various ways that Pena-Rodriguez ‘did it because he’s Mexican.’ I simply cannot agree with the majority that ‘[p]rotecting the secrecy of jury deliberations’ is of such ‘paramount importance in our justice system’…that it must trump a defendant’s opportunity to vindicate his fundamental constitutional right to an impartial jury untainted by the influence of racial bias,” Marquez wrote in the dissenting Colorado Supreme Court opinion. “In my view, to foreclose consideration of the allegations presented here is precisely what ‘shatter[s] public confidence in the fundamental notion of trial by jury.'”
     The U.S. Supreme Court granted Pena-Rodriguez’s petition for writ of certiorari on Monday. Per its custom, the high court did not comment on its decision to take up the case.

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