Pena-Rodriguez v. People, Supreme Court Case No. 13SC9

CourtSupreme Court of Colorado
Citation350 P.3d 287,2015 CO 31
Docket NumberSupreme Court Case No. 13SC9
PartiesMiguel Angel PENA–RODRIGUEZ, Petitioner v. The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Respondent.
Decision Date18 May 2015

350 P.3d 287
2015 CO 31

Miguel Angel PENA–RODRIGUEZ, Petitioner
The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Respondent.

Supreme Court Case No. 13SC9

Supreme Court of Colorado.

May 18, 2015
Rehearing Denied June 15, 2015

Attorneys for Petitioner: The Law Office of Jonathan D. Rosen, PC, Jonathan D. Rosen, Denver, Colorado.

Attorneys for Respondent: Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Majid Yazdi, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado.

En Banc


CHIEF JUSTICE RICE delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶ 1 This case involves the interplay between two fundamental tenets of the justice system: protecting the secrecy of jury deliberations and ensuring a defendant's constitutional right to an impartial jury. After entry of a guilty verdict, defense counsel obtained juror affidavits suggesting that one of the jurors exhibited racial bias against the defendant during deliberations. The trial court refused to consider these affidavits, finding that Colorado Rule of Evidence (“CRE”) 606(b) barred their admission, and the court of appeals affirmed. People v. Pena–Rodriguez, 2012 COA 193, ¶ 3, 2012 WL 5457362. We granted certiorari to consider whether CRE 606(b) applies to such affidavits and, if so, whether the Sixth Amendment nevertheless requires their admission.1

¶ 2 We hold that the affidavits regarding the juror's biased statements fall within the broad sweep of CRE 606(b) and that they do not satisfy the rule's “extraneous prejudicial information” exception. We further hold that the trial court's application of CRE 606(b) did not violate the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the court of appeals.

I. Facts and Procedural History

¶ 3 In May 2007, a man made sexual advances toward two teenage girls in the bathroom of the horse-racing facility where Petitioner Miguel Angel Pena–Rodriguez worked. Shortly thereafter, the girls identified Petitioner as the assailant during a one-on-one showup. The People subsequently charged Petitioner with one count of sexual assault on a child—victim less than fifteen; one count of unlawful sexual contact—no consent; and two counts of harassment—strike, shove, or kick. After a preliminary hearing, the court bound over the first count as attempted sexual assault on a child—victim less than fifteen.2

¶ 4 At the start of a three-day trial, the jury venire received a written questionnaire, which inquired, “Is there anything about you that you feel would make it difficult for you to be a fair juror in this case?” During voir dire, the judge asked the panel, “Do any of you have a feeling for or against [Petitioner] or the Prosecution?” Later, defense counsel asked the venire whether “this is simply not a good case for them to be a fair juror.” None of the jurors subsequently impaneled answered any of these questions so as to reflect racial bias. The jury ultimately found Petitioner guilty of the latter three counts but failed to reach a verdict on the attempted sexual assault charge.

¶ 5 Two weeks later, Petitioner filed a motion for juror contact information, alleging that “some members of the jury used ethnic slurs in the course of deliberations.” The trial court ordered Petitioner to submit affidavits regarding the “ ‘who, what, when, and where’ of the allegations of juror misconduct.” Petitioner's counsel subsequently filed an affidavit averring that, shortly after entry of the verdict, two jurors informed her that “some of the other jurors expressed a bias toward [Petitioner] and the alibi witness because they were Hispanic.”3 The trial

350 P.3d 289

court then authorized Petitioner's counsel to contact these jurors, but only to secure affidavits regarding their “best recollection of exactly what each ‘biased’ juror stated about [Petitioner] and/or the alibi witness.”

¶ 6 Thereafter, Petitioner submitted affidavits from jurors M.M. and L.T., both of whom alleged that juror H.C. made racially biased statements during deliberations. According to M.M., H.C. said that “I think he did it because he's Mexican and Mexican men take whatever they want.” She also stated that H.C. “made other statements concerning Mexican men being physically controlling of women because they have a sense of entitlement and think they can ‘do whatever they want’ with women.” L.T. stated that H.C. “believed that [Petitioner] was guilty because in his experience as an ex-law enforcement officer, Mexican men had a bravado that caused them to believe they could do whatever they wanted with women.” L.T. further averred that H.C. “said that where he used to patrol, nine times out of ten Mexican men were guilty of being aggressive toward women and young girls.” Finally, L.T. stated that H.C. “said that he did not think the alibi witness was credible because, among other things, he was ‘an illegal.’ ” Based on these affidavits, Petitioner moved for a new trial. The trial court denied the motion, finding that CRE 606(b) barred any inquiry into H.C.'s alleged bias during deliberations.4

¶ 7 Petitioner appealed, and a split division of the court of appeals affirmed. Pena–Rodriguez, ¶ 3. The majority first held that CRE 606(b) controlled the admissibility of the jurors' affidavits and that the affidavits did not satisfy the rule's exceptions. Id. at ¶¶ 33, 38, 41–42. The majority then rejected Petitioner's constitutional challenge regarding his Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury, holding that Petitioner “waived his ability to challenge the verdict on this basis by failing to sufficiently question jurors about racial bias in voir dire.” Id. at ¶ 43. Writing in dissent, Judge Taubman did not disagree with the majority's general analysis of CRE 606(b). Id. at ¶ 107 n.3. He concluded, however, that CRE 606(b) was unconstitutional as applied. Id. at ¶ 107. We granted certiorari.

II. Standard of Review

¶ 8 The general applicability of CRE 606(b) is a question of law that we review de novo. See Kendrick v. Pippin, 252 P.3d 1052, 1064 (Colo.2011), abrogated on other grounds by Bedor v. Johnson, 2013 CO 4, 292 P.3d 924. But whether the jury was influenced by extraneous prejudicial information is a mixed question of law and fact; we accept the trial court's findings of fact absent an abuse of discretion, but we review the court's legal conclusions de novo. Id.

III. Analysis

¶ 9 This case requires us to resolve whether CRE 606(b) bars admission of juror affidavits suggesting that a juror made racially biased statements during deliberations. To do so, we first examine the plain language of the rule and its overarching purpose. We then conclude that such affidavits indeed implicate CRE 606(b) and do not fall within the rule's “extraneous prejudicial information” exception. Finally, we consider whether the rule was unconstitutional as applied to Petitioner, and we determine that enforcing the rule did not violate his Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury.

A. CRE 606(b) : Language and Purpose

¶ 10 CRE 606(b) is broad in scope: It precludes courts from peering beyond the veil that shrouds jury deliberations. Specifically, the rule provides as follows:

Upon an inquiry into the validity of a verdict or indictment, a juror may not testify as to any matter or statement occurring during the course of the jury's deliberations or to the effect of anything upon his or any other juror's mind or emotions as influencing him to assent to or dissent from the verdict or indictment or concerning his mental processes in connection therewith.
350 P.3d 290

CRE 606(b). The rule does, however, enumerate three narrow exceptions: “[A] juror may testify about (1) whether extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jurors' attention, (2) whether any outside influence was improperly brought to bear upon any juror, or (3) whether there was a mistake in entering the verdict onto the verdict form.” Id. Colorado's rule is virtually identical to its federal counterpart. Compare id. with Fed. R. Evid. 606(b). See also CRE 606(b) committee cmt. (“[CRE] 606(b) has been amended to bring it into conformity with the 2006 amendments to the federal rule....”).

¶ 11 CRE 606(b) effectuates three fundamental purposes: It “promote[s] finality of verdicts, shield[s] verdicts from impeachment, and protect[s] jurors from harassment and coercion.” People v. Harlan, 109 P.3d 616, 624 (Colo.2005). Thus, the rule “strongly disfavors any juror testimony impeaching a verdict.” Id. We have recognized that the federal rule is equally forbidding. See Stewart ex rel. Stewart v. Rice, 47 P.3d 316, 321 (Colo.2002) (“[Fed. R. Evid. 606(b) ] would have been hard to paint with a broader brush, and in terms of subject, [its] exclusionary principle reaches everything which relates to the jury's deliberations, unless one of the exceptions applies.” (quoting Christopher B. Mueller, Jurors' Impeachment of Verdicts and Indictments in Federal Court Under Rule 606(b), 57 Neb. L.Rev. 920, 935 (1978))).

¶ 12 With the proscriptive language and purpose of CRE 606(b) in mind, we now consider whether the rule operates to bar admission of the juror affidavits in this...

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