Objecting to Racial Bias in Jury Deliberation

May 8, 2018

On March 6, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado which addressed racial bias in jury deliberations. In that case, after the defendant was convicted of harassment and unlawful sexual contact, two jurors informed defense counsel that another juror, H.C., had made anti-Hispanic comments during deliberations. The jurors alleged that H.C. said he:

believed the defendant was guilty because, in [H.C.’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,

and that H.C. also said, “I think he did it because he’s Mexican and Mexican men take whatever they want.” Further, the jurors stated that H.C. stated, “nine times out of ten Mexican men were guilty of being aggressive toward women and young girls.” In reversing the Colorado Supreme Court, Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court and held:

For the reasons explained above, the Court now holds that where a juror makes a clear statement that indicates he or she relied on racial stereotypes or animus to convict a criminal defendant, the Sixth Amendment requires that the no-impeachment rule give way in order to permit the trial court to consider the evidence of the juror’s statement and any resulting denial of the jury trial guarantee.

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a former juror in Minnesota, D.B., read a newspaper article on the Supreme Court’s decision which prompted him to report to the court an incident of possible racial bias that occurred during deliberations for a case on which he served as the jury foreman. In that case, United States v. Michael Allen Smith, the defendant was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm and illegally possessing a short-barreled shot gun

After being notified of the allegations, Smith’s attorney filed a motion for a new trial in October 2017 and an evidentiary hearing was held in December 2017. In his affidavit, D.B. stated that during deliberations, a juror, W.B., said something like, “You know he’s just a banger from the hood, so he’s got to be guilty.” According to D.B., this comment influenced his vote and he did not vote to convict the defendant based on the evidence, but because of his race.

Another juror from the case, A.J., also provided an affidavit stating that a juror had made a comment like, “look[,] he is a black person with a previous criminal record living in North Minneapolis.” He interpreted this to mean “once a criminal, always a criminal”, but did not find the comment racist. He indicated that his final vote of guilty was based on the evidence.

On April 24, 2018, U.S. District Judge for the District of Minnesota, Susan Richard Nelson, granted defendant’s motion for a new trial, finding that a racially biased remark made during jury deliberations denied the defendant his 6th Amendment right to a trial by an impartial jury.

The docket for the case can be viewed here.

Image source: REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Not a Westlaw subscriber? Sign-up for a free trial today.