ADL: Racial Bias in Jury Deliberations “Erodes the Integrity of Our Criminal Justice System”

New York, NY, July 5, 2016 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has joined with the Hispanic National Bar Association and LatinoJustice PRLDEF on an amicus brief in Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado, a case involving allegations of racial bias on the part of a juror.

The brief urges the U.S. Supreme Court to allow the use of specific evidence of racial bias in jury deliberations in order to prove a violation of the constitutional right to a trial by an impartial jury.

“When racial prejudice infects our jury system, it undermines the very concept of a fair trial and erodes the integrity of our criminal justice system,” said Marvin D. Nathan, ADL National Chair. “The constitutional right to an impartial jury should not be superseded by a rule of evidence, particularly when direct evidence of racial bias exists.”

“Trials should be based on evidence, not on the race or national origin of the defendant,” said Deborah M. Lauter, ADL Senior Vice President of Policy and Programs. “If racial prejudice taints the jury deliberation process, courts must be able to confront that prejudice, rather than be forced to turn a blind eye to injustice in the name of evidentiary rules.”

Ms. Lauter added, “We must work to ensure that our justice system operates more fairly for everyone.”

In this case, following a guilty verdict at trial, two jurors reported that a third juror had expressed racial bias against the defendant, who is Latino, during jury deliberations.  According to their affidavits, the juror made statements such as, “[he] did it because he’s Mexican and Mexican men take whatever they want,” and that he believed that “[the defendant] was guilty because in [that juror’s] experience as an ex-law enforcement officer, Mexican men had a bravado that caused them to believe they could do whatever they wanted with women.” The trial court denied the defendant’s motion for a new trial and refused to consider those statements of racial bias, finding that a Colorado rule of evidence barred their admission as evidence.

The amicus brief argues that, given the fundamental constitutional right at issue and the importance of ensuring that the criminal justice system is free of racial prejudice, the Court should apply the most rigorous level of scrutiny – strict scrutiny – and invalidate the application of this rule of evidence in the case.

The brief was prepared by the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.