The federal rules of evidence, as well as rules in most states, generally bar courts from hearing juror testimony about deliberations after a trial is over. Indeed, the Supreme Court just two years ago ruled that to allow an inquiry into jury deliberations would threaten the integrity of the jury system by inhibiting jurors' discussions.
However, in the case of Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado, the Supreme Court held 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.
This is the second ruling from the Supreme Court implicating racial overtones in court proceedings. Last month, the justices ruled 6-2 that a Texas death row inmate deserved a new sentencing hearing because of racially discriminatory presented by his own defense team.
Jeffrey Fisher, the lawyer for Mr. Pena-Rodriguez, argued in October that “racial bias is never the lesser evil” among competing interest. “Race is a particular poison” He said.
Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan took strong strands on the defendant’s behalf, agreeing with Fisher that race and ethnicity should got extra protection—as they already do in 17 states.
“We have the best smoking-gun evidence you’re ever going to see about race bias in the jury room,” Kagan told Assistant Solicitor General Rachel Kovner, whose office sided with Colorado.
But Alito, in his dissent, said one exception to the sanctity of jury deliberations inevitability will lead to others.