Color in the "Black Box": Addressing Racism in Juror Deliberations

Chandran, Ashok

The idea of trial by an impartial jury lies at the core of American criminal justice. Yet racism—both explicit and implicit—often has profound impacts on the administration of criminal law and criminal procedure. Such bias manifests itself at all levels of the system, including the deliberative process itself. Currently, however, defendants of color have limited options in challenging racism in juries. This Note analyzes a current circuit split over whether Rule 606(b) provides defendants with one avenue of recourse by introducing juror testimony about statements made during the deliberative process. By looking at the history leading up to the Rule’s enactment, this Note centers institutional legitimacy in the discussion, arguing that the Rule was born out of a desire to preserve the legitimacy of a jury trial following the demise of the trial by ordeal. By barring the introduction of juror testimony about allegedly racist statements made during deliberations, this Note goes on to posit, a strict textual interpretation of Rule 606(b) actually delegitimizes the jury trial in the eyes of communities of color. A strict commitment to the text, therefore, flies in the face of the very purposes of the Rule.


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Columbia Journal of Race and Law

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March 13, 2015