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Unanimous Jury Necessity for Criminal Convictions, says Supreme Court

(Photo from Google images, captured from the movie.”12 Angry Men”; authorized under Fair Use Act)

On April 20, 2020, in a divided opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that only unanimous jury may convict defendants in criminal trials.

In considering the Sixth Amendment’s “trial by an impartial jury trial” language, Justice Gorsuch wrote in an opinion, “… the answer is unmistakable … a jury must reach a unanimous verdict in order to convict.”

Out of 50 states, only Oregon allows conviction of defendants over the dissent of up to two jurors. Louisiana, the 49th state to abandon the practice of convicting a defendant without a unanimous jury verdict, only recently changed its laws in 2018, to apply to all crime convictions taking place after 2018.

This ruling overturns the 2016 conviction of Louisiana man named Evangelisto Ramos, who was convicted by a jury of 10-2 of killing a woman in New Orleans.

This new ruling has a high likelihood of getting Ramos a new trial.

Ramos’ attorney Ben Cohen of Promise of Justice Initiative, a Louisiana-Based nonprofit organization dedicated to identifying non-unanimous jury verdicts on criminal cases, expressed happiness in the ruling, calling it “rejection of second-class justice.”

Out of 9 justices, 6 voted to uphold unanimous jury verdicts; 3 justices that dissented were Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito, and Justice Elena Kagan.

In a dissenting opinion, Alito argued that the overturning of a 48-year old decision that allowed non-unanimous jury laws was wrong, as it lowers the bar for overruling precedents.

Majority argued the 48-year old decision as being racist, implemented as part of an effort to make conviction of black and other ethic minority peoples easier.

Given that even the voters in the state of Louisiana tended to call this law a “Jim Crow” law, including state Senator J.P. Morrell of New Orleans, it seems to support the view that perhaps many already deemed non-unanimous jury convictions as racist.


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