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Supreme Court: Juries Must be Unanimous to Convict Criminals

Supreme Court: Juries Must be Unanimous to Convict Criminals

As announced Monday, juries for state criminal trials must vote unanimously to convict a defendant.

The ruling, which reinforces the standard in most states, settles a constitutional loophole that allowed judges to convict defendants in Louisiana and Oregon without a unanimous vote.

Louisiana in 2018 voted to abandon the loophole for crimes committed in 2019 or later, while Oregon continued to allow convictions if no more than 2 members of the jury disagreed with the majority.

“Wherever we might look to determine what the term ‘trial by an impartial jury trial’ meant at the time of the Sixth Amendment’s adoption…the answer is unmistakable,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. “A jury must reach a unanimous verdict in order to convict.”

As noted by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the outlier rule made it easier to convict minorities. “Non-unanimous juries can silence the voices and negate the votes of black jurors, especially in cases with black defendants or black victims, and only one or two black jurors.”

The Supreme Court’s decision overturned the conviction of Evangelisto Ramos, a Louisiana resident (see image above) who earned a life sentence in 2016 for murder charges. The jury voted 10-2 to convict.

“We have been bringing challenges to Louisiana’s outlier split jury rule to the US Supreme Court since 2004,” says Ben Cohen, an attorney working for Mr. Ramos. “We are heartened that the Court has held…that the promise of the Sixth Amendment fully applies in Louisiana, rejecting any concept of second-class justice.”

In his dissenting opinion, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito accused the majority of “lowering the bar for overruling our precedents.” Alito was joined in his opinion by Justices John Roberts and Elena Kagan.

Alito argued that Louisiana and Oregon’s reliance on the outlier law was reason enough to keep it in place and worried the ruling could raise questions about thousands of convictions, creating a “potentially crushing burden on the courts and criminal justice systems of those states.”

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9 Comments

  1. Linda

    Does anyone know if this immediately frees or makes it a mistrial that can be retrialed?

    Reply
    • Joe Gilbertson

      No “double jeopardy.” If the jury does not convict you, and there are no errors, then you are free.

      That doesn’t mean that a vindictive prosecutor can’t make up other charges and go after you again, though. But you can’t be tried again on the same charge.

      Reply
  2. Derek Blurb

    So the Supreme Court is racist and they openly state it.

    Reply
    • Rawhide

      No, what they said is that it takes 12 jurors to convict any defendant of a crime. Black, brown, white or pink polka-dot, any defendant. With less than 12 jurors, then people of color are more apt to be convicted. This isn’t rocket scientist stuff, but then again maybe you were just looking for something to claim racism.

      Reply
  3. mike canoose

    the system is gone to the dogs judge Roy bean and is friend the bear crooked cops but not all the good ones look the other way thats said so is the courts DA state all bad

    Reply
  4. El Supremo

    It has always puzzled me that juries, made up of ordinary citizens who are NOT expert in the law, must be unanimous to convict while Supreme Court Justices, supposedly EXPERT in the law can be 5 to 4 on any issue and prevail

    Reply
  5. jim james

    What happens if a defendant is clearly but a biased juror votes not guilty. This scenario goes both ways..

    Reply
    • Joe Gilbertson

      Better that a hundred guilty men go free, than one innocent man be hanged…

      Reply
  6. George Peabody

    The Guilty who are not convicted in a court of law by unanimous Jury of Peers will surely be Finally Judged to be guilty, and punishment will be provided by God’s Laws for Eternity. Even the Guilty who sincerely Repent, and suffer to make those Victims whole again, will be Forgiven.
    Our Christian-God Inspired Constitution FOR the United States of America is the next best provider of guidance for our attempts at being a civilized society.
    God Bless America; God Bless our President Donald Trump.
    aloha, George Peabody

    Reply

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