Appeals court tosses convictions in wake of Supreme Court ruling on jury verdicts
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The Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeal has overturned two manslaughter and molestation convictions in response to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that nonunanimous jury verdicts are unconstitutional.
On Wednesday, the court held that Gabriel Hunter, who was sentenced to 50 years in prison in 2017 for molesting a preteen girl, and Richard Donovan, who received a 40-year sentence in 2018 for manslaughter in 2016 after shooting a neighborhood acquaintance, could now receive new trials. They were both convicted in 10-2 jury votes.
The Times-Picayune covered the decisions.
“Finding that the new constitutional rule announced by the U.S. Supreme Court in Ramos v. Louisiana, which requires unanimous jury verdicts in state felony trials, applies to this direct appeal of the defendant’s nonunanimous conviction, we hereby vacate the defendant’s conviction and sentence, and we remand this matter to the trial court,” wrote Judge Sandra Cabrina Jenkins in the opinion in Donovan’s case.
The Supreme Court decided the Ramos case in April, and the Times-Picayune reports that these decisions are among the first to apply the ruling. In late April, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal also vacated the conviction of Tyrone Myles, who was found guilty of second-degree murder in a 10-2 jury vote. Jurors had voted to convict Myles in the killing of 23-year-old Antoine Brumfield in 2017.
The Times-Picayune also reports that Louisiana and Oregon were the only two states that allowed split jury verdicts until Louisiana voters approved a constitutional amendment that required unanimity among jurors in 2018. That change, however, only applied to crimes that were committed on or after Jan. 1, 2019.
According to the Oregonian, appellate courts in Oregon have also started to reverse convictions that resulted from nonunanimous jury verdicts. As of Thursday, the Oregon Supreme Court sent 16 cases back for retrial and the Oregon Court of Appeals returned three cases.