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Nonunanimous juries? The Supreme Court votes for unanimity

On Behalf of | Feb 28, 2022 | Criminal Defense |

Allowing someone to be convicted of a crime on divided votes from a jury may seem unfair, and in a Supreme Court ruling, it was determined that it is. According to the ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, jury verdicts that involve serious crimes do need to have a unanimous decision from the jury.

This case reached the Supreme Court after it was found that Oregon and Louisiana were allowing defendants to be convicted even when the jury was divided on the case. The result of this decision includes at least one man’s case being overturned.

In that case, the case of Evangelisto Ramos, he had been found guilty of murder with a 10-2 jury vote, which is unusual based on how court systems work elsewhere in the United States.

Why should the change impact this case?

Louisiana recently changed how it addresses jury decisions in court. The state now requires a unanimous decision from the jury in serious cases, but past cases weren’t automatically updated to reflect that decision. It’s now believed that Ramos will get another trial.

The Supreme Court found with a 6-3 vote that the Sixth Amendment does guarantee a jury trial and a unanimous verdict. The Amendment’s intent was traced back through English common law in which it was originally held that verdicts should be unanimous. That unanimous decision requirement was recognized as long ago as 1989, but in 1972, the Supreme Court ruled that Louisiana and Oregon could continue to have nonunanimous jury decisions. This raised questions about why both Louisiana and Oregon were not holding their courts to the same standards as others across the country.

It’s believed that the nonunanimous systems were rooted in prejudice. How? In cases with a majority white jury, any African Americans or minorities on the jury would essentially have meaningless votes.

This ruling is beneficial for all people in these states. Now, in serious cases, such as those involving murder, the juries will be held to the same standards as elsewhere in the United States. Without a unanimous decision, it will be much harder to put someone behind bars or have the charges turn into a guilty conviction.


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