The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a general rule ensuring secrecy in jury deliberations does not apply if racial animus affects the proceedings.
In a 5-3 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court said that racial bias is so invidious that it undermines public confidence in the jury system, warranting an exception to the rule providing for secret deliberations.
“The nation must continue to make strides to overcome race-based discrimination,” Kennedy wrote for the majority. “The progress that has already been made underlies the court’s insistence that blatant racial prejudice is antithetical to the functioning of the jury system and must be confronted in egregious cases.”
The case arose from a sex crimes prosecution in Colorado, wherein two jurors told a defense attorney that a member of the jury had made racially-disparaging remarks about the defendant and his alibi witness during the deliberations. Both individuals are Hispanic.
Kennedy’s opinion was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.
The juror, identified in court documents as “H.C.” told another juror he believed the defendant was guilty because, “Mexican men had a bravado that caused them to believe they could do whatever they wanted with women.”
“I think he did it because he’s Mexican and Mexican men take whatever they want,” he added.
The jury convicted the defendant of three misdemeanors, but did not convict him of felony attempted sexual assault.
Justice Samuel Alito dissented from the Court’s ruling, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas. The dissenters called the majority opinion “well-intentioned” but feared the ruling could begin the erosion of jury privacy.
“This is a startling development, and although the court tries to limit the degree of intrusion, it is doubtful that there are principled grounds for preventing the expansion of today’s holding,” Alito wrote.
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