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A tree blooms outside the Supreme Court on March 16, 2020 in Washington. (AP photo)
A tree blooms outside the Supreme Court on March 16, 2020 in Washington. (AP photo)

U.S. Supreme Court: Unanimous jury verdict required to convict

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution requires jurors to be unanimous before criminal defendants can be convicted of a serious crime.

The justices on Monday threw out the conviction of Evangelisto Ramos, a Louisiana man who was convicted of second-degree murder on a 10-2 jury vote and sentenced to life in prison in 2016.

The high court’s 6-3 decision nullified a 1972 Supreme Court ruling that said the Constitution’s Sixth Amendment doesn’t require states to have unanimous verdicts. The Supreme Court has long said that unanimity is required in federal courthouses.

The latest case produced an unusual split, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan in dissent, saying the court should have abided by the 1972 precedent.

Louisiana and Oregon were the only two states that let some defendants be convicted even if one or two jurors disagreed. Louisianans voted in 2018 to start requiring unanimity, but only for crimes committed in 2019 or later. Louisiana already required a 12-0 verdict in death penalty cases.

Like the rest of the Bill of Rights, the Sixth Amendment was originally aimed only at the federal government. Starting in the 1960s, the court began “incorporating” many of those rights into the 14th Amendment’s due process clause, which binds the states.

The case is Ramos v. Louisiana, 18-5924.

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