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This is a Jan. 27, 2020 file photo of The Supreme Court in Washington. The Supreme Court has ruled that juries in state criminal trials must be unanimous to convict a defendant, settling a quirk of constitutional law that had allowed divided votes to result in convictions in Louisiana and Oregon. The justices’ vote Monday overturned the conviction of a Louisiana man who is serving a life sentence for killing a woman after a jury voted 10-2 to convict him. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)
ANDREW SELSKY Associated Press
Published: 20 April 2020

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Until Monday, Oregon was the only state that allowed nonunanimous jury convictions. 

The U.S. Supreme Court ended that in a decision involving a murder conviction in Louisiana which, until 2019, had also allowed nonunanimous jury convictions. 

The Oregon District Attorneys Association said it is reviewing the opinion for its immediate impact on pending and closed criminal cases.  

State Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum had warned the U.S. Supreme Court that the criminal justice system would be "overwhelmed" if it ruled that nonunanimous jury verdicts are unconstitutional. She wrote in a brief to the court last August that the ruling could invalidate hundreds or even thousands of convictions. Rosenblum's statement on today's decision is below.

In 1934, voters decided to amend the state constitution to allow split-jury verdicts — a decision fueled by white supremacy and anti-minority sentiment. One newspaper said immigrants from southern and eastern Europe had made the requirement for unanimous verdicts "unwieldy and unsatisfactory." 

Rosenblum had supported a move to repeal the amendment, noting the jury rule's links to racism and anti-Semitism. But she said such a change should be for cases "going forward," not retroactively.

In 2019, several lawmakers sponsored a resolution calling for a ballot measure to repeal the constitutional amendment. The resolution unanimously passed the House, but died in the Senate. 

The District Attorneys Association had supported the ballot initiative, saying it "would have allowed Oregon voters to decide this issue, without the uncertainty of retroactivity." 

"ODAA acknowledges that a change to unanimous verdicts could make criminal convictions more difficult. However, it is a hallmark of our justice system that it should be difficult to take someone's liberty," the association said. 

The Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 vote Monday that juries in state criminal trials must be unanimous to convict a defendant.  

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that the practice is inconsistent with the Constitution's right to a jury trial and that it should be discarded as a vestige of Jim Crow laws in Louisiana and racial, ethnic and religious bigotry that led to its adoption in Oregon in the 1930s. 

The decision "has finally ended an unjust rule with a shameful past in Oregon," said professor Aliza Kaplan, director of the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon. 

"Now Oregon will be able to join the rest of the country and require unanimous juries in all criminal cases ensuring a more fair trial for all those accused of crimes and ensuring that all jurors' voices are heard and part of the decision making process as they should be," Kaplan said. 

The clinic is available to assist those with non-unanimous jury convictions who remain in custody along with those no longer incarcerated who wish to revisit their convictions, she said. 

The justices overturned the conviction of Evangelisto Ramos. He is serving a life sentence in Louisiana for killing a woman after a jury voted 10-2 to convict him in 2016. In 2018, Louisiana voters changed the law for crimes committed beginning in 2019.

Statement from Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum:

Ellen Rosenblum introOregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum“As of this morning, the United States Supreme Court, in Ramos v. Louisiana, has reversed its erroneously decided opinion in a 1972 Oregon case (Apodaca v. Oregon), in which it upheld non-unanimous jury verdicts in state criminal cases. “This is good news! It is an embarrassment to our otherwise progressive state that we are the only state in the country with a law in our constitution that allows criminal convictions without juror unanimity.  “Oregon, through its legislative referral process, was in the process of changing our law when the Supreme Court announced last year that it would take up the Louisiana case it decided today. The timing was such that our legislature dropped its plan to refer the question of jury unanimity to Oregon voters.

Instead, the Supreme Court has put Oregon in the spotlight for a law we never should have been adopted in the first place, but which has been followed here for 85 years.

“While I had urged the legislature — through the referral process — to take this matter into our own hands before the Supreme Court did it for us, we can now move forward to remove the law from our state constitution (that does not occur automatically) and address the many cases that require review as a result of today’s decision. “We have been expecting this ruling, and we’re well-prepared to address its significant consequences for Oregon’s justice system. We have been working closely for months with our appellate courts and with the leadership of the criminal defense bar to plan our case review and the judicial process that will ensue. We will also need to be in contact with the many crime victims and their families who are impacted by this decision.

“Thankfully, the collegial and professional bench and bar in Oregon are accustomed to working together to navigate challenges — and this will be no exception.”

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