Supreme Court allows piercing of secrecy of jury deliberations in racial bias case

A bus passes the US Supreme Court on January 31, 2017, in Washington.

Story highlights

  • The case pitted secrecy rules in jury deliberations against the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of a fair and impartial jury
  • Miguel Angel Pena-Rodriguez was charged with unlawful sexual contact and harassment

(CNN)The Supreme Court allowed a criminal defendant Monday to pierce the secrecy of jury deliberations to determine if his conviction was affected by racism.

The justices were considering the case of a juror in Colorado who urged other jurors to find a man guilty "because he's Mexican and Mexicans take whatever they want."
The court ruled 5-3.
The case pitted secrecy rules in jury deliberations against the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of a fair and impartial jury. The justices considered whether the so-called "no impeachment" rule -- meant to protect the secrecy of jury deliberations and the finality of jury verdicts -- should be pierced when the deliberations include racial bias.
Miguel Angel Pena-Rodriguez was charged with unlawful sexual contact and harassment after two girls testified that he groped them in a bathroom at a horse-racing track in Colorado. Their father, a track employee, called the police who caught up with Pena-Rodriguez later the same night. The girls positively identified him as their attacker and he was later convicted.
Pena-Rodriguez will next get a hearing in a lower court to try to prove his claim that the verdict was unconstitutionally biased.