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. For the inquiry to proceed, there must be a showing that one or more jurors made statements exhibiting overt racial bias that cast serious doubt on fairness and impartiality. To qualify, the statement must tend to show that racial animus was a significant motivating factor in the juror’s vote to convict. 


Miguel Angel Pena-Rodriguez was convicted of unlawful sexual conduct and harassment in state trial court. After the entry of a guilty verdict, two jurors informed Pena-Rodriguez’s counsel that one of the other jurors made racially biased statements about Pena-Rodriguez and the alibi witness during jury deliberations. The trial court authorized Pena-Rodriguez’s counsel to contact the two jurors for their affidavits explaining what the “biased” juror said about Pena-Rodriguez or his alibi witness. Based on these affidavits, which related racially biased statements about Pena-Rodriguez’s likely guilt and the alibi witness’ lack of credibility because both were Hispanic, Pena-Rodriguez moved for a new trial. The trial court denied the motion, and the Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court of Colorado held the jurors’ affidavits were inadmissible under Rule 606(b) of Colorado’s Rules of Evidence, which prohibits juror testimony on any matter occurring during the jury deliberations. The Supreme Court of Colorado also held Rule 606(b) did not violate Pena-Rodriguez’s Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury because Pena-Rodriguez had waived that right by failing to adequately question jurors about their racial bias during voir dire.


May Rule 606(b) of Colorado's Rules of Evidence bar evidence of racial bias offered to prove a violation of the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury?




The Supreme Court reversed the Supreme Court of Colorado's judgment upholding defendant's convictions and remanded the case for further proceedings. 5-3 Decision; 2 Dissents. HOLDINGS: [1]-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"; [2]-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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