U.S. Supreme Court

Requirement for jury unanimity in serious cases isn't retroactive, Supreme Court rules

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The requirement for unanimous jury verdicts in serious criminal cases doesn’t apply retroactively to overturn final convictions on federal collateral review, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 against Thedrick Edwards, who was sentenced to life in prison after a nonunanimous Louisiana jury voted to convict him of rape, kidnapping and armed robbery. Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote the majority opinion.

The Supreme Court ruled last year in Ramos v. Louisiana that the Sixth Amendment, as applied to the states through the 14th Amendment, requires unanimous verdicts in serious criminal cases. The decision affected only Oregon and Louisiana—the only states that had allowed split verdicts.

In the new case, Edwards v. Vannoy, the Supreme Court considered whether Ramos applied retroactively under the 1989 decision Teague v. Lane. Teague held that a new procedural rule applies retroactively only if it constitutes a “watershed” rule of criminal procedure.

Kavanaugh said the unanimous jury rule is not a watershed rule. Kavanaugh noted that no case since Teague has found. that a new rule of criminal procedure has retroactive effect and said the Teague exception for watershed rules “retains no vitality.”

“For decades, the court has rejected watershed status for new procedural rule after new procedural rule, amply demonstrating that the purported exception has become an empty promise,” Kavanaugh wrote.

“It is time—probably long past time—to make explicit what has become increasingly apparent to bench and bar over the last 32 years: New procedural rules do not apply retroactively on federal collateral review. The watershed exception is moribund,” he added.

According to Nola.com, the decision affects as many as 1,500 Louisiana inmates who have exhausted appeals after being found guilty by nonunanimous juries.

Justice Elena Kagan dissented in an opinion joined by Justice Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

“In overruling a critical aspect of Teague, the majority follows none of the usual rules of stare decisis,” Kagan wrote. “It discards precedent without a party requesting that action. And it does so with barely a reason given, much less the ‘special justification’ our law demands.”

Edwards and an accomplice were accused of kidnapping a college student, forcing him to try to withdraw money from an ATM (there was no money), stealing some things from his apartment, forcing the college student to arrange a meeting with his girlfriend, and raping two of three women at the girlfriend’s apartment. Edwards and the accomplice were also accused of forcing another man to withdraw money from an ATM.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Appeals court tosses convictions in wake of Supreme Court ruling on jury verdicts”

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