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Law School Case Brief

Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado - 137 S. Ct. 855 (2017)


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. Not every offhand comment indicating racial bias or hostility will justify setting aside the no-impeachment bar to allow further judicial inquiry. To qualify, the statement must tend to show that racial animus was a significant motivating factor in the juror’s vote to convict. 


In 2007, in the bathroom of a Colorado horse-racing facility, a man sexually assaulted two teenage sisters. The girls told their father and identified the man as an employee of the racetrack. The police located and arrested petitioner, Miguel Angel Peña-Rodriguez who was separately identified by the victims as the man who had assaulted them. Thereafter, the state prosecutors in Colorado charged Peña-Rodriguez with harassment, unlawful sexual contact, and attempted sexual assault on a child. Before the jury was empaneled, members of the venire were repeatedly asked whether they believed that they could be fair and impartial in the case. Accordingly, the Court encouraged the jurors to speak in private with the court if they had any concerns about their impartiality. None of the empaneled jurors expressed any reservations based on racial or any other bias. And none asked to speak with the trial judge. After a 3-day trial, the jury found petitioner guilty of unlawful sexual contact and harassment, but it failed to reach a verdict on the attempted sexual assault charge. After the jury has convicted the petitioner with the crime of unlawful sexual contact and harassment, 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 the court’s supervision, obtained sworn affidavits from the two jurors. The affidavits by the two jurors described a number of biased statements made by another juror, identified as Juror H. C. After reviewing the affidavits, the trial court acknowledged H. C.’s apparent bias. But the court denied petitioner’s motion for a new trial, noting that the actual deliberations that occur among the jurors are protected from inquiry under Colorado Rule of Evidence 606(b).” Like its federal counterpart, 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. The verdict deemed final, petitioner was sentenced to two years’ probation and was required to register as a sex offender. Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed petitioner’s conviction, agreeing that H. C.’s alleged statements did not fall within an exception to Rule 606(b) and so were inadmissible to undermine the validity of the verdict. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals.


Can a jury's verdict convicting defendant of harassment and unlawful sexual contact be reviewed under Colorado Rule of Evidence 606(b)?




The Court held that Colorado courts erred when they found that a jury's verdict convicting defendant of harassment and unlawful sexual contact could not be reviewed under Colo. R. Evid. 606(b), even though a juror told other jurors he believed defendant was guilty because, in his experience as a former law enforcement officer, "Mexican men had a bravado that caused them to believe they could do whatever they wanted with women". According to the Court, although Colo. R. Evid. 606(b) restricted inquiry into the validity of a jury's verdict, the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution required that the so-called "no-impeachment rule" give way in order to permit a trial court to consider evidence of a juror’s statement and any resulting denial of the jury trial guarantee in cases where a juror made a clear statement which indicated that he or she relied on racial stereotypes or animus to convict a defendant.

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