Given the imbalance between the prosecutor’s resources {in many cases unlimited} and , almost always, the defense’s {often, an ill prepared P D who knows nothing about the case until the day of trial!}, this is a great decision.

 

 

Excerpts from the Article:

The Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) held that in jury trials of criminal cases the verdict must be unanimous to convict the defendant, overruling Apodaca v. Oregon, 406 U.S. 404 (1972).

Evangelisto Ramos was convicted of a serious crime in Louisiana by a jury vote of 10 to 2. He was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Ramos challenged his conviction on the ground that a conviction by a non-unanimous jury violates his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.

Justice Gorsuch, writing for the Court, observed that “[i]n 48 States and federal court, a single juror’s vote to acquit is enough to prevent a conviction. But not in Louisiana. Along with Oregon, Louisiana has long punished people based on 10-to-2 verdicts like the one here.” But at one time, all States required unanimous verdicts.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees that “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed….” The right to a jury trial in criminal cases is also enshrined in Article III, section 2, of the U.S. Constitution. But that venerated document does not define what is meant by “jury trial.” Did those words convey, at the time James Madison penned the Sixth Amendment, that a jury must reach a unanimous verdict in order to convict?

The requirement of juror unanimity emerged in England in the 1300s and was soon accepted as a vital right protected by the common law. J. Thayer, Evidence at Common Law 86-90 (1898) (“Thayer”). No one could be found guilty of a serious crime unless “the truth of every accusation … should … be confirmed by the unanimous suffrage of twelve of his equals and neighbors, indifferently chosen, and superior to all suspicion.” 4 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 343 (1769). A “verdict, taken from eleven, was no verdict” at all. Thayer.

The Constitutions of Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia explicitly required unanimous jury verdicts to convict. All States, even without an explicit provision in their respective Constitutions, required unanimity as an essential feature of a jury trial. Commonwealth v. Fells, 36 Va. 613 (1838). By the time the Sixth Amendment was written and ratified by the States in 1791, unanimous verdicts had been required for about 400 years.

And the right to unanimous verdicts continued in State courts in the years after ratification. In 1824, Nathan Dane reported as fact, in 6 N. Dane, Digest of American Law, ch. LXXXII, Art. 2, § 1, p. 226, that the U.S. Constitution required unanimity in criminal jury trials for serious offenses. And Justice Story explained that “unanimity in the verdict of the jury is indispensable.” 2 J. Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States § 777, p. 248 (1833).

SCOTUS had also repeatedly affirmed that the Sixth Amendment requires unanimity. A defendant enjoys a “constitutional right to demand that his liberty should not be taken from him except by the joint action of the court and the unanimous verdict of twelve persons.” Thompson v. Utah, 170 U.S. 343 (1898). “Unanimity in jury verdicts is required where the Sixth and Seventh Amendments apply.” Andres v. United States, 333 U.S. 740 (1948). In the 120-plus years since the Thompson decision, SCOTUS “has commented on the Sixth Amendment’s unanimity requirement no fewer than 13 times….” (See opinion for citations of those 13 cases.)

SCOTUS has explained that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial is “fundamental to the American scheme of justice” and incorporated against the States under the Fourteenth Amendment. Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145 (1968). And the provisions of the Bill of Rights that have been incorporated under the Fourteenth Amendment apply with the same force and effect to the courts of the States as to the federal courts. Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1 (1964). In light of this weight of history and precedent, how did Ramos come to be convicted by a Louisiana jury’s 10-to-2 verdict?

Racists, racial supremacists, racism, and racial supremacy – the people and the ideology espoused by them – continue to impact the U.S. justice system. Often it is done in ignorance and done implicitly. But in Louisiana, non-unanimous verdicts for serious crimes were first explicitly endorsed for racist reasons at a constitutional convention in 1898. One committee chairman said the avowed purpose of the convention was to “establish the supremacy of the white race.” Official Journal of the Proceedings of the Constitutional Convention of the State of Louisiana 374 (H. Hearsey ed. 1898). The men at that convention produced a document that included many of the insidious Jim Crow laws: the poll tax, the combined literacy and property ownership test, and clauses that exempted White residents from these laws.

SCOTUS explicitly held in the instant case that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial includes the right to a unanimous verdict and is applicable to the States via the Fourteenth Amendment, overruling Apodaca.

Accordingly, the Court reversed Ramos’ conviction. See: Ramos v. Louisiana, 206 L. Ed. 2d 583 (2020).

The Whole Story