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The Art of Prejudice: Examining the Minority Effect Inside the Courtroom

The Art of Prejudice: Examining the Minority Effect Inside the Courtroom

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Published by tsulawjournal
Published in Volume 1, Number 1 of the Journal.
Published in Volume 1, Number 1 of the Journal.

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Published by: tsulawjournal on Apr 10, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/25/2013

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THE ART OF PREJUDICE: EXAMINING THE MINORITYEFFECT INSIDE THE COURTROOM
BRITTANIE A. HOLMESI.
 
INTRODUCTION“As American society has matured, blatant forms of racismhave increasingly been replaced by newer, more elusive, but equallyinjurious forms of derision.”
1
Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence states in part that “evidence may be excluded if its probativevalue is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfairprejudice…or misleading the jury…”
2
When inside of a courtroom,parties to a case become the minority to a controlled majority, knownas the jury, who hold people’s fate in their hands. People’s namesare often tarnished by the attacks of their character on irrelevantmatters, which may be targeted based on their ethnic backgrounds,religious beliefs, and even legal citizenship. Also, dangers of unfairprejudice can arise if evidence demonstrates immoral character orunpopular associations that could arouse juror antagonism,overemphasizes negative connotations and incites a jury'svindictiveness, invites unwarranted conclusions generating a risk of fact-finding mistake, or unreasonably appeals to a jury's emotions orprejudices.
3
 
1
Elizabeth L. Earle,
Banishing the Thirteenth Juror: An Approach to theIdentification of Prosecutorial Racism
, 92 C
OLUM
. L. R
EV
. 1212, 1222 (1992).
2
F
ED
. R. E
VID
. 403.
3
D. Craig Lewis,
Proof and Prejudice: A Constitutional Challenge to the Treatment of Prejudicial Evidence in Federal Criminal Cases
, 64 W
ASH
. L. R
EV
. 289, 322(1989).
Although shocking to some, the utilization andexploitation of bigotry in the name of “justice” is alive and well.
 
2
A
.
Summary of Recent Case Law
In the 2010 decision of 
TXI Transp. Co. Inc. v. Hughes
,
4
theSupreme Court of Texas had the task of determining whether theadmission of evidence regarding the illegal immigrant status of  one of the parties to the case was harmful error by the lower court.
5
Thecase consisted of a collision where several members of the Hughesfamily died after their vehicle collided with an eighteen-wheel tractor-trailer driven by Ricardo Rodriguez.
6
At the time, Rodriguez was employed as the driver for TXI Transportation Company (“TXI).
7
 Surviving members of the Hughes family sued Rodriguez and TXI.
8
During the trial, TXI objected to evidence concerningRodriguez’s illegal immigrant status based on grounds of relevanceand prejudice. 
9
The trial court overruled the objection. As a result,“the jury learned Rodriguez had previously been deported and hadmade several misrepresentations regarding his immigration status toobtain his Texas commercial driver’s license and his employmentwith TXI.”
Subsequently, the jury decided in favor of the Hughesfamily finding that the negligence of Rodriguez and TXI was theproximate cause of the accident, and awarded compensatory andexemplary damages.
The court of appeals setaside the award forexemplary damages, but affirmed the judgment.
On appeal, TXI argued that it was error to admit evidence of Rodriguez’s illegal immigrant status because it was irrelevant to thecase and was impermissibly used to agitate the jury and impeach
4
TXI Transp. Co. v. Hughes, 306 S.W.3d 230 (Tex. 2010).
5
TXI 
at 233.
 6
 
Id.
at 233-34.
7
 
Id.
at 234.
8
 
Id.
 
9
 
Id.
 
10
 
Id.
 
11
 
Id.
 
12
 
Id.
at 234.
 
3
Rodriguez’s credibility.
However, the Hugheses argued thatRodriguez’s false representations were relevant to claims of negligenthiring and negligent entrustment.
The Supreme Court of Texas ruled that Rodriguez’simmigration status was not the cause of the collision and not relevantto the negligent entrustment or hiring claims. 
The Court reasonedthat Rodriguez’s statements about his immigration status were notadmissible because it was clearly a collateral matter and inadmissibleunder Texas Rule of Evidence 608(b).
The rules state that “specificinstances of the conduct of a witness, for the purpose of attacking . . .the witness’s credibility . . . may not be inquired into oncross-examination of the witness nor proved by extrinsic evidence.”
Inregards to the harm of the erroneous admission, TXI argued “that therepeated references to Rodriguez’s immigration problems and allegedmisrepresentations were inflammatoryand deliberately calculated tocause the jury to disbelieve Rodriguez.”
The Supreme Court of Texas concluded that Hughesintentionally brought attention to Rodriguez’s illegal immigrationstatus. 
The Court stated, “Such appeals to racial and ethnicprejudices, whether ‘explicit and brazen’ or ‘veiled and subtle,’cannot be toleratedbecause they undermine the very basis of ourjudicial process.”
The Court held that the trial court erred byadmitting the evidence.
 
13
 
Id.
at 240.
14
 
Id.
 
15
 
TXI Transp. Co.
, 306 S.W.3d at 241.
16
 
Id.
at 241-42.
17
 
See id.
at 242; T
EX
. R. E
VID
. 608(b).
18
TXI Transp. Co. v. Hughes, 306 S.W.3d 230, 243 (Tex. 2010).
19
 
Id.
at 245.
20
 
Id.
(quoting Tex. Employers’ Ins. Ass’n v. Guerrero, 800 S.W.2d 859, 864 (Tex.App.-San Antonio 1990,
writ denied 
).
21
 
TXI Transp. Co.
, 306 S.W.3d at 245.
The error was harmful because its prejudicewas not outweighed by any probative value and fostered the

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