64 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2021 Last revised: 14 Feb 2021
Date Written: January 22, 2021
Juries have deliberated in secret since medieval times. The historical reason for the secrecy is that it promotes impartiality, which in turn protects a defendant’s right to a fair trial. But as it turns out, jurors are not always impartial. Lurid examples exist of jurors condemning defendants based on the defendant’s race, sexuality, ethnicity, and religion.
Generally speaking, courts cannot hear evidence of what transpired during deliberations. In 2017, however, the U.S. Supreme Court created an exception to this rule, holding that the Sixth Amendment requires courts to hear evidence of jurors making racially biased statements. But this exception means little if defendants have no way to uncover the bias. And because juries deliberate in private, it is incredibly difficult for defendants to discover what the jury discussed during deliberations.
This Article questions the wisdom of secret deliberations. It traces the history of jury secrecy and the public policy considerations that support secret deliberations, and it catalogs past attempts to record deliberations. It then discusses the racial bias exception to the jury no-impeachment rule created by the U.S. Supreme Court and explains how it is insufficient because it does not provide a mechanism for detecting bias. This Article then proposes a unique fix: that deliberations be memorialized and made part of the record in criminal cases. At times, secret deliberations frustrate, rather than promote, defendants’ fair trial rights. Accordingly, the practice of secret deliberations should be revisited.
Keywords: criminal law, criminal procedure, race and the law
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