Setting the Standard: A Closer Look at Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado

In criminal trials, individuals are summoned to serve on juries. Those who are selected to be on a jury are expected to be fair, impartial, and honest. But when jurors demonstrate characteristics that are not fair, impartial, or honest, a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right may be impeded—even more so when there is a demonstration of racial bias in jury deliberations. In the past when there has been racial bias in jury deliberations, Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b) did not allow attorneys to do much to rectify the situation. Rule 606(b) states that a juror may not testify about any statement made or incident that occurred during jury deliberations, making it difficult for attorneys to remedy a verdict that has been tainted by racial bias.

Most recently, in Peña–Rodriguez v. Colorado, the Supreme Court addressed this issue and attempted to remedy the situation by holding that when there is evidence of blatant racial bias that influences a jury’s verdict, Rule 606(b) will give way to allow a juror to testify before a court in support of a motion to set aside the verdict. Although this ruling is a step in the right direction, the Supreme Court failed to establish what procedures lower courts should follow to decide whether an evidentiary hearing is warranted and, assuming the defendant is granted an evidentiary hearing, when a juror’s behavior or bias is egregious enough for the defendant to be granted a new trial or reversal. This Note will bring to the forefront the narrow application of Peña-Rodriguez and discuss the issues defendants have had with its application. Moreover, this Note will shed more light on the racial bias impacting our justice system and open up an important discussion on a defendant’s inability to address racial bias in jury deliberations, in spite of Peña-Rodriguez.