No Impeachment Of Jury Verdict Rule Reversed BY Supreme Court

March 15, 2017

Prosecutors in Colorado brought criminal charges against Angel Peña­Rodriguez in 2007 alleging that he had sexually assaulted two teenage sister in the bathroom of a Colorado horse racing facility. The girls told their father, and identified the man as an employee of the racetrack. The police located and arrested petitioner and each girl separately identified petitioner as the man who had assaulted her. Petitioner was then charged with harassment, unlawful sexual contact, and attempted sexual assault on a child.

At the time of trial a jury was empaneled and the normal voir dire began. Members of the jury panel were repeatedly asked whether they believed that they could be fair and impartial in the case. A written questionnaire asked if there was “anything about you that you feel would make it difficult for you to be a fair juror.” The court repeated the question to the panel of prospective jurors and encouraged jurors to speak in private with the court if they had any concerns about their impartiality. Defense counsel likewise asked whether anyone felt that “this is simply not a good case” for them to be a fair juror. None of the empaneled jurors ex­ pressed any reservations based on racial or any other bias. And none asked to speak with the trial judge.

After a three day trial, the jury found petitioner guilty of unlawful sexual contact and harassment, but failed to reach a verdict on the attempted sexual assault charge. When the jury was discharged, the court gave them an instruction, mandated by Colorado law:

“The question may arise whether you may now discuss this case
with the lawyers, defendant, or other persons. For your guidance
the court instructs you that whether you talk to anyone is entirely
your own decision . . . If any person persists in discussing the case
over your objection, or becomes critical of your service either
before or after any discussion has begun, please report it to me.”

As the jury was leaving petitioner’s counsel entered the jury room to discuss the trial with the jurors. As the room was emptying, two jurors remained to speak with counsel in private. They stated that during deliberations, another juror had expressed anti Hispanic bias toward petitioner and petitioner’s alibi witness. Petitioner’s counsel reported this to the court and, with court supervision, obtained sworn affidavits from the two jurors.

According to the two jurors, a juror identified as H. C. told the other jurors that he believed the defendant was guilty because, in his experience as an former law enforcement officer, Mexican men had a bravado that caused them to believe they could do whatever they wanted with women.

The jurors reported that H. C. stated his belief that Mexican men are physically controlling of women because of their sense of entitlement, and further stated, “I think he did it because he’s Mexican and Mexican men take whatever they want.” H. C. further explained that in his experience, “nine times out of ten Mexican men were guilty of being aggressive toward women and young girls. Finally, the jurors recounted that H. C. said that he did not find petitioner’s alibi witness credible because, among other things, the witness was an illegal.

After reviewing the affidavits, the trial court acknowledged H. C.’s apparent bias. But denied petitioner’s motion for a new trial, noting that deliberations that occur among jurors are protected from inquiry under Colorado Rule of Evidence 606(b). Colorado’s Rule 606(b) generally prohibits a juror from testifying as to any statement made during deliberations in a proceeding inquiring into the validity of the verdict. Colorado Evidence Rule 606(b) states:

“Inquiry into validity of verdict or indictment. Upon an inquiry into
the validity of a verdict or indictment, a juror may not testify as to
any matter or statement occurring during the course of the jury’s
deliberations or to the effect of anything upon his or any other juror’s
mind or emotions as influencing him to assent to or dissent from the
verdict or indictment or concerning his mental processes in connection
there­with. But a juror may testify about (1) whether extraneous prejudicial
information was improperly brought to the jurors’ attention, (2) whether
any out­side influence was improperly brought to bear upon any juror,
or (3) whether there was a mistake in entering the verdict onto the verdict
form. A juror’s affidavit or evidence of any statement by the juror may not
be received on a matter about which the juror would be precluded from
testifying.” Colo. Rule Evid. 606(b) (2016).

Petitioner was sentenced to two years probation and was required to register as a sex offender. A divided panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed petitioner’s conviction. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed by a vote of 4 to 3. The Colorado Supreme Court relied on two decisions of the United States Supreme Court rejecting constitutional challenges to the no impeachment rule as applied to evidence of juror misconduct or bias.

The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide whether there is a constitutional exception to the no impeachment rule for instances of racial bias.

At common law jurors were not allowed to impeach their verdict, either by affidavit or live testimony. This rule originated in England in 1785 in the case of Vaise v. Delaval, 1 T. R. 11, 99 Eng. Rep. 944. In that case Lord Mansfield excluded juror testimony that the jury had decided the case through a game of chance. The Mansfield rule, as it came to be known, prohibited jurors, after the verdict was entered, from testifying either about their subjective mental processes or about objective events that occurred during deliberations.

American courts adopted many aspects of the Mansfield rule as a matter of common law. Some jurisdictions adopted a more flexible version of the no­ impeachment bar known as the “Iowa rule.” Under that rule, jurors were prevented only from testifying about their own subjective beliefs, thoughts, or motives during deliberations. Jurors could, however, testify about objective facts and events occurring during deliberations, in part because other jurors could corroborate that testimony.

An alternative, later referred to as the federal approach, stayed closer to the original Mansfield rule. The no impeachment bar permitted an exception only for testimony about events extraneous to the deliberative process, such as reliance on outside evidence— newspapers, dictionaries, and the like—or personal investigation of the facts.

In United States v. Reid, 12 How. 361 (1852), the Court appeared ready to admit of testimony that jurors had consulted newspapers during deliberations, but in the end it barred the evidence because the newspapers “had not the slightest influence” on the ver­ dict. The Reid Court added an important admonition: “cases might arise in which it would be impossible to refuse” juror testimony “without violating the plainest principles of justice.” In Mattox v. United States, 146 U. S. 140, 151 (1892). The Court suggested, that the ad­ mission of juror testimony might be governed by a more flexible rule, one permitting jury testimony even where it did not involve consultation of prejudicial extraneous information. The Reid Courts noted the possibility of an exception to the rule in the “gravest and most important cases.”

The Supreme Court has tackled the question of under what circumstances an exception to the no impeachment rule may be made in just two cases. In Tanner, 483 U. S. 107, the Court rejected a Sixth Amendment exception for evidence that some jurors were under the influence of drugs and alcohol during the trial. The Court provided two reasons for not permitting an exception the long recognized and very substantial concerns supporting the protection of jury deliberations from intrusive inquiry. The Court was also concerned that attempts to impeach a verdict would disrupt the finality of the process and undermine both jurors’ willingness to return an unpopular verdict and “the community’s trust in a system that relies on the decisions of laypeople.

The second case to consider the issue presented here was Warger, 574 U. S. ___. The Court rejected the argument that, in the circumstances there, the jury trial right required an exception to the no impeachment rule. Warger involved a civil case where, after the verdict was entered, the losing party sought to proffer evidence that the jury forewoman had failed to disclose a pro-defendant bias during voir dire. The Court stated: “Even if jurors lie in voir dire in a way that conceals bias, juror impartiality was adequately assured by the parties’ ability to bring to the court’s attention any evidence of bias before the verdict is rendered, and to employ non-juror evidence even after the verdict is rendered.”

In Warger, the Court reiterated that the no­ impeachment rule might admit exception. The Court warned of “juror bias so extreme that, almost by definition, the jury trial right has been abridged.” “If and when such a case arises,” the Court indicated it would “consider whether the usual safeguards are or are not sufficient to protect the integrity of the process.”

After providing the background for the no impeachment rule the Court then addressed the racial bias question.

In the years before and after the ratification of the 14th Fourteenth Amendment, it became clear that racial discrimination in the jury system posed a particular threat both to the promise of the Amendment and to the integrity of the jury trial.

All white juries punished black defendants particularly harshly, while simultaneously refusing to punish violence by whites, including Ku Klux Klan members, against blacks and Republicans.”

For example in 1865 and 1866, all white juries in Texas decided a total of 500 prosecutions of white defendants charged with killing African Americans. All 500 were acquitted.

The stark and unapologetic nature of race motivated outcomes challenged the American jury system and prompted Congress to pass legislation to integrate the jury system and to bar persons from eligibility for jury service if they had conspired to deny the civil rights of African­ Americans. Members of Congress stressed that the legislation was necessary to preserve the right to a fair trial and to guarantee the equal protection of the laws. Beginning in 1880, the Court interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment to prohibit the exclusion of jurors on the basis of race and has repeatedly struck down laws and practices that systematically exclude racial minorities from juries.

The unmistakable principle underlying these precedents is that discrimination on the basis of race, “odious in all aspects, is especially pernicious in the administration of justice.”

The court found that the facts in this case lay at the intersection of the Court’s decisions endorsing the no impeachment rule and its decisions seeking to eliminate racial bias in the jury system.

The Court found that the racial bias of the kind alleged in this case differed in critical ways from the compromise verdict in McDonald, the drug and alcohol abuse in Tanner, or the pro­ defendant bias in Warger. The behavior in those cases was troubling and unacceptable, but each involved anomalous behavior from a single jury—or juror—gone off course.

The same cannot be said about racial bias, a familiar and recurring evil that, if left unaddressed, would risk systemic injury to the administration of justice.
The Court’s decisions demonstrate that racial bias implicates unique historical, constitutional, and institutional concerns.

For the reasons explained above, the Court held that where a juror makes a clear statement that indicates he or she relied on racial stereotypes or animus to convict a criminal defendant, the Sixth Amendment requires that the no impeachment rule give way in order to permit the trial court to consider the evidence of the juror’s statement and any resulting denial of the jury trial guarantee.

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