St. Mary's Law Journal


The Sixth Amendment safeguards an accused in criminal proceedings and affords them “the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.” Consistent with this right, the no-impeachment rule prohibits a juror from testifying after a verdict has been handed down about the jurors’ deliberations. While there are limited exceptions to the no-impeachment rule, juror expressed racial bias is not one of them. When presented with the dilemma of a juror using racial bias in deliberations, courts must weigh two competing doctrines that serve as the foundation to our judicial system: (1) affording a defendant his or her constitutional rights to an impartial jury in criminal proceedings, and (2) ensuring that we protect the secrecy of the jury’s deliberations. In 2017, in Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado, the United States Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether the no-impeachment rule overrules the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury in a criminal case. The Supreme Court held that the no-impeachment rule must give way, and courts are permitted to inquire into jury deliberations to determine whether a juror expressed racial bias during those deliberations. In doing so, the Supreme Court carved out a new exception to the long-standing rule that jury deliberations are to remain private.

This recent development discusses the history of the no-impeachment rule and the challenge of grappling with the plain language of the rule in light of an individual’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair and impartial jury trial. The author evaluates the background of the Peña-Rodriguez case and the path it took from the trial court up to the United States Supreme Court. Additionally, the author assesses both the majority opinion and the dissenting opinions of the Supreme Court’s decision. Finally, the author discusses whether the Peña-Rodriguez holding will apply in civil cases as well.

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St. Mary's University School of Law


Katherine Spiser Rios