Judges confronted with allegations of racial or ethnic bias among jurors are allowed to investigate the claims, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled yesterday. The opinion created a new exception to case law historically barring judges from questioning jurors about their process.
Kittle v. United States, quotable quotes.
“implicates the fundamental importance of protecting the right to trial by an impartial jury.”
“Courts consistently have exercised great caution in allowing jurors to impeach their verdicts” for five significant reasons: “(1) discouraging harassment of jurors by losing parties eager to have the verdict set aside; (2) encouraging free and open discussion among jurors; (3) reducing incentives for jury tampering; (4) promoting verdict finality; [and] (5) maintaining the viability of the jury as a judicial decision-making body.”
For guidance in applying the no-impeachment rule, we look to the Supreme Court‟s decision in Tanner v. United States, 483 U.S. 107 (1987), and its progeny. (Followed in the military.)
However, our inquiry does not stop here; we must also consider whether the substantial, countervailing interest of protecting the right to an impartial jury that is untainted by racial or ethnic bias requires that we recognize a constitutional exception to this evidentiary rule. The exception would allow the trial judge to exercise her discretion to conduct a hearing if it appears necessary to ensure that a juror‟s racial or ethnic biases did not impair the defendant‟s constitutional rights. For the following reasons, we conclude that such an exception to the no impeachment rule is warranted.