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Evidence of Racial Bias: Supreme Court Considers Its Admissibility

October 31, 2016, on Criminal Investigations |

When a defendant is on trial for a crime, the case may go before a jury who will decide guilt or innocence. The makeup of the jury can have a major impact on whether the jury convicts or acquits. Albany criminal defense attorneys have extensive experience with jury selection and can provide assistance to defendants in selecting a jury who will give them the best chance of a favorable outcome.

Unfortunately, in some cases, jury selection goes wrong and a defendant faces a greater risk of conviction due to the people who are on the jury. For example, a significant problem relates to racial bias. If a defendant is a minority and the jury members are biased against that particular minority, the chances of a conviction are greater. 

This became a potential issue in one recent case where a man was convicted and it was later revealed that one of the members of the jury had made racist comments.  The defendant tried to get a new trial, but wasn't allowed to introduce the evidence of racial bias. This rule preventing him from introducing evidence was challenged, and the U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments.

Should Evidence of Racial Bias be Admissible?

The case that made its way to the Supreme Court involved a man named Miguel Pena-Rodriguez, who went on trial in Colorado and was convicted of assaulting two teens. After the verdict came in, attorneys for the defendant discovered one of the jurors had made comments indicating that the defendant must have been guilty “because he’s Mexican, and Mexican men take whatever they want.”

Attorneys for the defendant wanted to seek a new trial on the basis of racial bias, but Colorado has a “no impeachment rule” which prohibits jurors from testifying about “any matter or statement occurring during the course of the jury’s deliberations.”  This was making it impossible to get a fair hearing on retrial, so the rule's application was challenged and the case made its way to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court will decide whether applying the no-impeachment rule to block evidence of racial bias violates the defendant's sixth amendment rights to an impartial jury. The issue raises complicated questions of both fairness for the defendant and the need to protect jury members by determining where to draw the line regarding the admissibility of statements.

If the Supreme Court rules evidence of racial bias should be admitted, this will protect defendants throughout the country who may need to be able to introduce evidence of racial bias on a jury if they wish to pursue a new trial once they are convicted because of a prejudiced jury member.

It remains to be seen how the Supreme Court rules on this important issue, but hopefully the court will determine protection of the right to a fair trial is important enough that evidence of bias should be admissible. Regardless of how the court rules, however, it will remain important for defendants to get help from knowledgeable criminal defense attorneys to help select juries and help ensure a fair trial. Contact The Law Office of James E. Tyner, PLLC today.

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