One of the most important parts of the criminal justice system in America is the jury system. By leaving the verdict up to the jury, we ensure that normal people play a crucial role in how we treat people who have been charged with a crime. By preventing anyone from hearing or seeing what goes on in the deliberation room, we can ensure that the members of the jury who issue the verdict are not influenced by anyone on the outside.
However, there are times when this is not enough to keep the jury insulated from improper influences, like racial bias. A new Supreme Court case, though, now makes it easier to correct this, if it does happen.
Supreme Court Corrects Racial Bias in Jury Verdict
After a criminal trial by jury, the jury goes into the deliberation room to talk about the case. While in the deliberation room, they figure out, amongst themselves, whether the defendant is guilty for the crimes charged.
When the jury makes its verdict, it is absolute, final, and cannot be impeached, or called into question. The only exceptions to this no-impeachment rule were when the jury considered evidence that wasn't presented at trial, or when there was some other sort of outside influence.
This no-impeachment rule was the problem in the case Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado. A man of Mexican descent was charged for harassment and unlawful sexual conduct. He had an alibi, though: He was with his friend, who was also of Mexican descent. Despite his alibi, he was convicted.
Because the case happened in Colorado, lawyers were able to talk to the jury after the verdict to find out why they reached their conclusion. Two jurors told the defense attorney that another juror was convinced the defendant was guilty, simply because he was Mexican. This other juror also disregarded the alibi witness because he was “an illegal.”
The case was appealed through the Colorado courts, but lost every time. The courts there favored the no-impeachment rule over correcting the clear racial discrimination.
When the Supreme Court heard the case, though, they overturned the Colorado courts and carved a hole in the no-impeachment rule to allow jury verdicts to be reviewed for discrimination. The ruling is a huge step forward for people who have been charged with a crime. Before, instances like these would fly under the radar and never be uncovered. Now, defendants who think they've been wrongfully convicted because of their race – whatever their race is – have the means to enforce their rights to Equal Protection under the Constitution.
Maine Criminal Defense Attorney William T. Bly
You should not have to go into a criminal trial – a trial that could lead to a serious conviction that comes with jail time – worried that you are going to be treated unfairly because of who you are or where your ancestors come from. By hiring the best criminal defense attorney you can find, you can rest assured that, even if the jury is full of people who don't like you, everything will be done to get you the fair trial that you deserve.