Will the Jury System Survive the Peña-Rodriguez Exception to Rule 606(b)?: The Court's Response to Racial Discrimination by a Juror Leaves the Future of the American Jury Trial System in Jeopardy

By Myhand, Taurus | Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights, Spring 2018 | Go to article overview

Will the Jury System Survive the Peña-Rodriguez Exception to Rule 606(b)?: The Court's Response to Racial Discrimination by a Juror Leaves the Future of the American Jury Trial System in Jeopardy


Myhand, Taurus, Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights


INTRODUCTION..........................................................................................................................104

I. THE NO-IMPEACHMENT RuLE .........................................................................................106

A. History of the No-Impeachment Rule............................................................................106

B. The Supreme Court Adopts the No-Impeachment Rule in 1915........................107

C. Congress Adopts the No-Impeachment Rule in 1975............................................108

D. Jurisprudence that Followed the Enactment of Rule 606(b).................................110

E. Congressional Amendments to Rule 606(b)................................................................111

II. THE PENA-RODRIGUEZ DECISION.................................................................................113

A. The Background and Facts of Peña-Rodriguez..........................................113

B. Procedural History of Peña-Rodriguez...........................................................114

C. The United States Supreme Court's Decision...........................................................115

D. The Dissents in Pena-Rodriguez...................................................................................116

III. THE FuTuRE OF THE AMERICAN JURY TRIAL SYSTEM AFTER PENA-RODRIGUEZ.......................117

A. The New Exception to Rule 606(b) Raises Several Unanswered Questions........................................117

B. More Damaging to Free Debate Than Curative of Racial Discrimination............................................119

C. Implicit Bias is More Dangerous to a Defendant..........................................................................................121

D. A Recipe for Even More Litigation.123

Conclusion.124

Introduction

The jury room has been closely guarded as a "sacred" space throughout the history of the United States. The secretive nature of jury deliberations helps to ensure the jury functions properly in rendering a verdict.1 The protection extended to jury deliberations is important to promoting finality in cases, while also deterring frivolous attempts at undermining a verdict rendered by ordinary persons with no interest in a case.2 Additionally, the protection was designed to encourage free discussions during jury deliberations while preventing the harassment of jurors regarding those discussions.3 It has long been considered more suitable to lose important evidence than to interfere with a "confidential communication" that is so valuable to our legal system.4 Accordingly, jurors have generally not been allowed to testify to prove misconduct that occurred during jury deliberations "to impeach the verdict, particularly as to a juror's subjective decision-making process, motives, or intra-jury influences on the jury during its deliberative process."5

In March 2017, the Supreme Court changed course from centuries of jurisprudence and superseded the Federal Rules of Evidence with a new exception to Rule 606(b) in the Court's decision in Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado.6 Prior to Peña-Rodriguez, the only exceptions to Rule 606(b) allowed jurors to "testify about: (A) 'extraneous prejudicial information' improperly brought to their attention, (B) 'outside influences' improperly brought to bear on any juror, and (C) a mistake on the verdict form."7 Notwithstanding the federal statutory rules, in Peña-Rodriguez, the Court held that when a "juror makes a clear statement that indicates the juror relied on racial stereotypes or animus to convict a criminal defendant," the trial court may consider evidence of the juror's statement.8 There are legitimate arguments for wanting to curtail the no-impeachment rule, but those arguments are more appropriately made in the legislature.9 Moreover, it is not yet clear if the American jury system will survive the Court's efforts to "perfect" it. …

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