Supreme Court Rules on Unanimous Jury Requirement, Potentially Upends Thousands of Split Convictions

law - lady justiceSupreme Court determines that the Sixth Amendment unanimous jury requirement applies to states. 

In Ramos v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled defendants charged with a serious offense cannot be convicted based on split jury verdicts. The jury must unanimously convict the criminal according to the Sixth Amendment’s unanimous jury requirement which has long been held to apply to federal cases.

As reported in Bloomberg Law:

At issue in the case—which state officials warned could ultimately upend thousands of non-unanimous convictions—was whether the Sixth Amendment’s unanimous jury requirement applies to the states through a process called incorporation.

How many convicts benefit from the ruling in Evangelisto Ramos’ favor will likely be the subject of further litigation.

An article in The New York Times notes that only one state, Oregon, still allowes split jury verdicts as Louisiana recently changed its state constitution although it was too late to apply to the plaintiff Ramos. The Times article also provides the complicated history on the Supreme Court applying federal protections to states:

While the Bill of Rights originally restricted the power of only the federal government, the Supreme Court has ruled that almost all of its protections apply to the states under the 14th Amendment, one of the post-Civil War amendments.

But a confusing 1972 decision, Apodaca v. Oregon, complicated matters. The vote in the case was 4 to 1 to 4, and only Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., who cast the controlling vote, said federal and state cases could be treated differently.

The article explains that Justice Neil M. Gorsuch who wrote the majority opinion in the Ramos case based his decision on the belief that Lousiana and Orgeon laws were “rooted in racism.” And that Justices’ opinions clashed over the precedent set by Apadoca v. Oregon.

For more information:

Supreme Court Bolsters Unanimous Jury Rule in Louisiana Case (Bloomberg Law)

Ramos v. Louisiana, case history (SCOTUS Blog)

Ramos v. Louisiana, SCOTUS opinion (U.S. Supreme Court)

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