Why the Supreme Court Ruling on Racial Bias in Juries Matters

Photo of arrestDo you know what the “no impeachment rule” is? It says that anything jury members discuss behind closed doors is to remain private, but that principle could soon change. In an unprecedented Supreme Court ruling, the justices decided that there might be a reason to break the principle of jury secrecy. It might even leave you wondering why the Supreme Court had never acted on this before.

Why Did the Supreme Court Rule Against Jury Secrecy?

The reasoning behind this decision was based on a Colorado sexual assault case from 2010. In that case, a juror used a racial stereotype to convince other jurors that the Mexican American defendant was guilty. Two jurors revealed this blatant racial prejudice to the defense, who took it to the judge. That judge did nothing to overturn the case, siting the “no impeachment rule,” but the defense was undeterred.

The defense took the case all the way to the Supreme Court, where justices agreed with the defense’s argument 5-3. The court did not go as far as to rule that future cases of jury bias would automatically result in a retrial. Instead, it decided that courts should consider retrial or other actions on a case-by-case basis.

The usual safeguards against juror bias includes questioning potential jury members and having jurors submit reports before rendering a verdict. These tools are useful for eliminating bias in some cases, for instance, when keeping victims of sexual assault from acting as jurors on cases involving sexual assault. However, when race is involved, the court does not think these safeguards are always enough.

Even so, the court does not plan to investigate every case where a juror makes a racially insensitive comment. Justice Kennedy says that further investigation would require a juror to make overt statements of racial bias that bring into question that juror’s ability to be fair and impartial when deciding on a verdict.

Julian, Crowder and Shuster is a firm of Texas criminal lawyers who fight aggressively to defend clients accused of crimes such as theft, assault and drug charges.

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