The False Promise of Peña-Rodriguez
52 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2021 Last revised: 4 Jan 2022
Date Written: February 16, 2021
In Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado, the Supreme Court recognized that racial bias influencing jury deliberations violates the Sixth Amendment’s impartial jury guarantee and is incompatible with the Fourteenth Amendment’s anti-discrimination principles. The Court therefore created a racial bias exception to the centuries-old no-impeachment rule, claiming the decision reflected “progress” in the effort to overcome race-based discrimination in the jury system.
This Article asserts that Peña-Rodriguez is full of false promise—that under the standard it sets, only the most egregious examples of juror racial bias will even be considered by a court. Subsequent cases reveal that, rather than protecting against racial bias, Peña- Rodriguez’s standard insulates most forms of racism from review. As society reckons with the ways in which race invidiously infects the criminal legal system, Peña-Rodriguez falls far short of its professed goal of eliminating bias from the jury box. Therefore, courts and jurisdictions committed to racial justice must consider other interventions.
Keywords: criminal law, criminal procedure, race and the law
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