U.S. Supreme Court

Are unanimous juries required in state criminal cases? SCOTUS will consider overruling precedent

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider whether to overrule a 1972 case that allowed nonunanimous verdicts in state criminal trials.

The court agreed to decide whether the Sixth Amendment requires unanimity in the case of Louisiana inmate Evangelisto Ramos, who was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of second-degree murder in a 10-2 jury vote.

The case was based on circumstantial evidence, according to Ramos’ cert petition. He acknowledged having sex with the victim the night before her slaying, but said she was alive when he left her home. Ramos said she had gotten into a car with two other men as he left.

Ramos had first raised the jury issue in a supplemental brief he filed himself in Louisiana state court.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1972 decision, Apodaca v. Oregon, that the Sixth Amendment requires unanimous verdicts in federal criminal trials, but not in state criminal trials. Ramos is asking the court to rule that the same Sixth Amendment right applies to the states through the incorporation doctrine.

When Ramos was convicted in 2016, only Oregon and Louisiana allowed nonunanimous verdicts in criminal trials. The states still required unanimity in cases of first-degree murder, the Associated Press reports.

Louisiana voters amended the state constitution to bar nonunanimous verdicts in criminal cases four months ago, according to the Associated Press. The change took effect in January, but it does not apply retroactively.

The ABA House of Delegates adopted a resolution in August 2018 urging states to require unanimity. In 2011, the ABA filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to reconsider the 1972 Apodaca ruling.

The new case is Ramos v. Louisiana.

Hat tip to SCOTUSblog.

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