Jurors’ Secrets Revealed

March 18, 2017

By Keffer Hirschauer LLP

Jurors’ Secrets Revealed

It is generally understood that a “jury’s deliberations are secret and not subject to outside examination,” Yeager v. United States, 557 U.S. 110, 121 (2009). Consequently and generally, the public or even the parties cannot know why a jury did or did not reach a verdict or what information it used to convict or acquit a defendant. It has generally been understood that unless there is extrajudicial or outside contact with the jury, the jury’s actions and deliberations are to remain secret. See, e.g., Rameriz v. State, 7 N.E.3d 933 (Ind. 2014).

However, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled earlier this month that “[a] constitutional rule that racial bias in the justice system must be addressed—including, in some instances, after the verdict has been entered—is necessary to prevent a systemic loss of confidence in jury verdicts[.]” Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado, No. 15-606, 2017 WL 855760, at 2 (U.S. Mar. 6, 2017). That is, based on this new ruling, there may be certain circumstances where trial courts can invade the general rule that a jury’s deliberations and their work is to be done in secrecy.

In Pena-Rodriguez, state prosecutors brought criminal charges alleging that the defendant sexually assaulted two sisters at a racetrack in Colorado. After finding that the defendant was guilty, his counsel spoke with two jurors who indicated that another juror had expressed anti-Hispanic bias toward Pena and his alibi witnesses. Counsel reported this to the court and obtained sworn affidavits from the jurors. Id. at 5.

The majority of the court found that, “[t]he duty to confront racial animus in the justice system is not the legislature’s alone.” Id. at 11. As such, trial courts are allowed to invade deliberations in order to address racial prejudice and animus. That rule is warranted because “[p]ermitting racial prejudice in the jury system damages ‘both the fact and the perception’ of the jury’s role as ‘a vital check against the wrongful exercise of power by the State.’” Id. at 12.

What does the Pena-Rodriguez ruling mean? It means that speaking with willing jurors after deliberations may be an important, if not critical, part of a defendant’s case. While deliberations will no doubt continue to remain secret, there is at least one exception that allows for those secrets to be revealed in certain circumstances.

Looking for a Vigo County criminal defense attorney that understands your criminal and appellate rights? Contact the attorneys at Keffer Hirschauer LLP today if you have questions or believe your constitutional or criminal rights have been violated. We stand ready to provide our clients with trusted representation and accurate information regarding the law and its application to their individualized case. Act now and contact us today at (317) 857-0160.