For 200 years, the law said that what members of a jury say during deliberations could not be investigated after the verdict. Last week the Supreme Court ruled that racist comments made by members of a jury during deliberation should be investigated.
The majority of the Court found that preventing racial bias by jurors is necessary to ensure equal treatment under the law. Justice Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, said that equal treatment is “central to a functioning democracy.” The Court made the decision after hearing an appeal from Miguel Angel Pena-Rodriguez, a Colorado man charged with unlawful sexual contact and harassment of two teen-aged girls. His defense? Mistaken identity.
After his conviction, his attorneys discovered a juror had used racial slurs during deliberations. The juror repeatedly said that Pena-Rodriguez is Mexican, and “Mexican men take what they want.” Justice Alito dissented, saying that the ruling “will tend to defeat full and vigorous discussion, expose jurors to harassment, and deprive verdicts of stability.”