Supreme Court Reverses Sex Offender Conviction because of Racial Bias in Trial
Myth and Bias
Racial bias is “a familiar and recurring evil” in the criminal justice system, said a US Supreme Court majority last month. They reversed a decision upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court that dealt with a man of Mexican descent convicted in a lower court of three misdemeanor sex offenses.
One of the jurors in the Colorado case was a former law enforcement officer who, during jury deliberations, uttered a number of statements indicating his bias. "Where I used to patrol, nine times out of 10, Mexican men were guilty of being aggressive toward women and young girls,” he said. When asked by peers why he thought the defendant’s alibi wasn’t believable, he said the witness was “an illegal,” and therefore untrustworthy.
After his conviction in the lower court, the defendant – Angel Peña Rodriguez – appealed the conviction on what he said was a violation of his constitutional right to a fair trial. The juror’s bias tainted the deliberations, he said. When the state Supreme Court denied his claim, they said their court system’s “no-impeachment rule” required them to disregard evidence of the juror’s racial bias. Apparently, that is false.
"…blatant racial prejudice is antithetical to the functioning of the jury system and must be confronted," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. Additionally, he said, "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 and any resulting denial of the jury trial guarantee."