What Comes Next: Expansion of the Pena-Rodriguez Racial Bias Exception to the No-Impeachment Rule
46 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2018
Date Written: January 16, 2018
In the recent case of Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado, the Supreme Court announced a constitutional exception to the juror no-impeachment rule--a traditional evidentiary rule barring jurors from testifying about what occurred during jury deliberations in an effort to impeach the verdict. Under this exception, where a juror makes a clear statement evincing that he or she convicted a criminal defendant on the basis of racial stereotypes or animus, the trial court may consider evidence of such juror statements. While the Court framed its decision as a necessary means of protecting the Sixth Amendment right to a fair and impartial trial, the Court discussed at length the need to rid the jury system of racial bias and prejudice, seemingly placing the case within a long line of cases intended to eliminate the impact of racism in the criminal justice system. As such, the Court limited its holding, and the newly created exception, strictly to instances of racial bias.
While the Supreme Court limited the Pena-Rodriguez exception to instances of only racial bias, judges and commentators alike have questioned whether such a limitation is possible in practice. Justice Alito noted as much in his dissent, arguing that there is no principled basis for limiting this exception to race. This Note explores this question: will, and should, the Pena-Rodriguez exception remain limited to race. First, this Note analyzes the jurisdictions in which a bias exception had already existed before Pena-Rodriguez to determine whether these exceptions have expanded beyond race to date. Next, this Note examines the related doctrinal area of voir dire peremptory strikes to determine whether the expansion of a race-only Batson exception to other types of prejudice can shed light on Pena-Rodriguez’s potential evolution. Finally, using the states’ experience with these exceptions and the Court’s own past experience under Batson, this Note demonstrates that the narrow exception created by Pena-Rodriguez is likely to, and should, expand beyond race, and suggests that, in addition to procedural barriers, incorporation of Fourteenth Amendment principles can ensure the no-impeachment rule continues to serve its purpose as a safeguard of the jury system.
Keywords: Pena-Rodriguez, no-impeachment rule, racial bias, racial bias exception, jury deliberations
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