The United States Supreme Court ruled on April 20, 2020, that defendants in criminal trials throughout the country must be convicted by the unanimous consent of a jury. Most all states, including Virginia, already have this requirement. However, Oregon and Louisiana still allowed such convictions without unanimous consent.
The case was brought to the Supreme Court by Evangelisto Ramos, who was convicted of murder in a Louisiana court by a 10-2 jury verdict in 2016. The Supreme Court’s new ruling could allow Ramos to receive a new jury trial for the murder charge.
The decision of the case was unusual in that the typical conservative/liberal sides of the court were realigned. The 6-3 ruling in the case, Ramos v Louisiana, had conservative Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, and Brett Kavanaugh join with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor for the majority opinion.
Justices Samuel Alito, Elena Kagan, and John Roberts were the three justices that dissented.
Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the opinion for the majority. “Wherever we might look to determine what the term ‘trial by an impartial jury trial’ meant at the time of the Sixth Amendment’s adoption—whether it’s the common law, state practices in the founding era, or opinions and treatises written soon afterward—the answer is unmistakable” Gorsuch concluded “A jury must reach a unanimous verdict in order to convict.”
Previously, unanimous verdicts had been required for convictions for all federal jury criminal trials.
Most states, including Virginia, have banned non-unanimous jury verdicts for conviction in criminal cases. The new Supreme Court ruling applies a unanimous-conviction requirement in the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution to state law.
Currently, Oregon is the only state which allows conviction of criminal defendants even if up to two jurors dissent. Louisiana outlawed non-unanimous jury verdicts for conviction in 2019.
This will allow Mr. Ramos to request a new trial. There are undoubtedly many other defendants in Louisiana and Oregon that will be filing requests for a new trial when their verdicts of conviction for criminal offenses had not been unanimous.
The Gordon Law Firm assists people who are accused of violations of criminal and traffic law in Fairfax, Arlington, Loudoun, and Prince William County. Our criminal defense lawyers Carlos Wall and Alex Gordon have helped more than 5000 people for felony and misdemeanor offenses in Virginia.
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