INSIDE: Supreme Court backs out of high-profile case,
The WASHINGTON— Supreme Court ruled Monday that courts must make an exception to the usual rule that jury deliberations are secret when evidence emerges that those discus- sions were marred by racial or ethnic bias.
“Racial bias implicates unique historical, constitu- tional and institutional con- cerns,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority in the 5-3 decision.
The case arose from statements made during jury deliberations in a 2010 sexual assault trial. “I think he did it because he’s Mexican, and Mexican men take what- ever they want,” a juror said of the defendant, according to sworn statements from other jurors submitted by defense lawyers after the trial was over.
The juror, identified in court papers as H.C., was a former law enforcement offi- cer. After the trial was over, two other jurors submitted sworn statements describing what he had said during deliberations.
“He said that where he used to patrol, nine times out of 10 Mexican men were guilty of being aggressive toward women and young girls,” one juror recalled.
Those statements, Kennedy wrote, warranted an investigation by the trial judge into deliberations that are ordinarily secret. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined the majority opinion.
In dissent, Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas, wrote that the majority opinion was a well-intentioned but ill-considered intrusion into jurors’ privacy.
Kennedy wrote that the usual tools to root out biased jurors — questioning during jury selection and reports from jurors before they render a verdict — are less effective when race is at issue. Pointed questions about racism may exacerbate tensions, he wrote. And jurors may be reluctant, he added, to accuse one another of insensitivity.