Supreme Court Makes Exception on Juror Secrecy

Ruling says deliberations can be disclosed if racial bias helped lead to conviction
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 6, 2017 11:59 AM CST
Supreme Court Makes Exception on Juror Secrecy
The Supreme Court has ruled: Jury secrecy is no longer a given.   (Getty Images/JasonDoiy)

Calling racial and ethnic bias "antithetical" to the way a US jury is supposed to work, the Supreme Court took exception Monday to the usual rule that jury deliberations be kept secret, the New York Times reports. The court's 5-3 ruling mandates that state and federal laws meant to shroud jury discussions in secrecy can be overridden if the defendant is convicted and it's revealed that any jurors made discriminatory statements that helped lead to the verdict, per the Hill. The case—which forced the Supreme Court to weigh Sixth Amendment rights for an impartial jury against a jury's privilege of debating without disclosure—centered on Miguel Angel Pena-Rodriguez, who was accused of sexually assaulting two teen sisters at a Colorado racetrack in 2007, convicted in 2010 of three misdemeanors, and sentenced to two years' probation.

After his trial ended, two jurors came forward to the defense to say that a juror known as "Juror HC" had expressed anti-Hispanic feelings during deliberations, including saying Mexican men "take whatever they want" and are "guilty of being aggressive toward women and young girls" 90% of the time; that juror also reportedly didn't find the defendant credible because he was an "illegal" (even though Pena-Rodriguez testified he was, indeed, a legal resident). Dissent to the Supreme Court's ruling, which stated that such prejudice "must be confronted in egregious cases," was offered by Justice Samuel Alito, who called the decision a "startling development" and said it flouted privacy that had been afforded to the jury room "for centuries." (A death-row inmate got a new trial because one juror tweeted.)

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