However, it is not sentence that Mr. Peña is challenging but the comments that were said by a juror during deliberations. Next month, the Supreme Court will consider whether Mr. Peña Rodriguez can challenge his conviction based on statements made by a juror during deliberations. This case will require the justices to choose between keeping jury deliberations secret and sustaining the Sixth Amendment’s promise of an impartial jury.
The juror, identified in court papers as H. C., was a former law enforcement officer. After the trial was over, two other jurors submitted sworn statements describing what he had said during deliberations.
H.C. is said to have stated, “I think he did it because he’s Mexican, and Mexican men take whatever they want,” a juror said of the defendant.
“He said that where he used to patrol, nine times out of 10 Mexican men were guilty of being aggressive toward women and young girls,” one juror recalled.
In Mr. Peña Rodriguez’s case, the Colorado Supreme Court resolved that tension in favor of secrecy. By a 4-to-3 vote, it said that “protecting the secrecy of jury deliberations is of paramount importance in our justice system.”
In dissent, Justice Monica M. Márquez wrote that “racial bias is detestable in any context, but in our criminal justice system it is especially pernicious.” Jury secrecy is important, she said, but it cannot “trump a defendant’s opportunity to vindicate his fundamental constitutional right to an impartial jury untainted by the influence of racial bias.”