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What the Supreme Court ruled about unanimous juries

| Mar 17, 2021 | Federal Crimes |

Many changes to criminal law are the result of legislation, but sometimes court rulings change how the government or other courts interpret the law. In 2020, the Supreme Court heard a case related to the rulings of juries during a criminal trial, revisiting an issue that the state has also addressed via legislation.

In this case, the decision reached by the members of the Court could have lasting consequences for those defending themselves against criminal charges, as well as those previously convicted of criminal charges in Louisiana.

A recent Supreme Court ruling could impact criminal cases

The crux of the issue in the Ramos v. Louisiana case was whether state trials, like federal ones, required a unanimous jury decision for a conviction. Evangelisto Ramos was convicted by a jury split 10-2. Although the Louisiana state courts upheld the conviction, the United States Supreme Court found that non-unanimous convictions infringe on the rights of those accused of crimes. They reversed the ruling of the lower courts.

Under the Sixth Amendment, defendants have the right to trial by an impartial jury, and the standard has typically been a unanimous vote for conviction. Louisiana’s law allowing convictions when one or two jurors dissented has since been changed by an amendment to the state constitution. However, the change was not retroactive, which forced Ramos to appeal his conviction all the way to the highest court in the country.

What this ruling could mean for those with Louisiana convictions

When Louisiana amended its state constitution to require unanimous jury votes for criminal convictions, the change did not benefit those already convicted in such a manner. The Supreme Court ruling affirms that the previous practices in Louisiana violated defendants’ Sixth Amendment rights.

Those convicted of a criminal offense by a split jury may have grounds to appeal their conviction based both on the new practices in the state and the Supreme Court ruling in Ramos that affirms the rights of defendants to a unanimous verdict from an impartial jury.

A successful appeal might mean that a convict has the right to a new trial, if not the end of a sentence or the removal of blemishes from an individual’s criminal record. Those who think that this case could have an impact on their rights may want to explore whether they have new options to revisit their criminal case.

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