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U.S. Supreme Court

ABA Amicus Brief Backs Unanimous Verdicts in Criminal Cases

Posted Jan 3, 2011 12:16 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The ABA is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider a 1972 opinion that upheld nonunanimous jury verdicts in state criminal cases.

The ABA is asking the Supreme Court to accept the appeal of Louisiana inmate Troy Barbour, convicted of attempted second-degree murder for shooting his employer during a quarrel. Jurors voted to convict Barbour by a 10-2 vote, according to the cert petition (PDF) filed by the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic. The ABA brief (PDF) points out its revised Criminal Justice Standards no longer support nonunanimous verdicts in criminal cases, according to The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times and an ABA news release.

The ABA asks the Supreme Court to reconsider its 1972 opinion upholding non-unanimous verdicts, Apodaca v. Oregon. The decision cited the ABA’s older standards issued in 1968.

According to the ABA’s amicus brief, the association reviewed the research and concluded that non-unanimous verdicts reduce the reliability of jury determinations, silence minority viewpoints and erode confidence in the criminal justice system. When unanimity is required, jurors evaluate the evidence more thoroughly and spend more time deliberating, according to the ABA’s summary of the research.

The studies also show no significant increase in hung juries when unanimity is required, according to the ABA brief. The ABA issued its revised standards in 1976.

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