PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Since 1934, Oregon has allowed defendants to be convicted by non-unanimous jury decisions. The United States Supreme Court took up a Louisiana case on the first day of their new term that could change that law.
Under the federal constitution, cases are required to be decided by unanimous juries. The case the Supreme Court is looking at, Ramos vs Louisiana, is focused on whether the 6th Amendment should be incorporated to all the states, Lewis & Clark Law Professor Aliza Kaplan told KOIN 6 News.
Until November 2018, Louisiana was the only other state that allowed non-unanimous jury verdicts. But voters overturned that and unanimous juries became the rule in January 2019.
If ‘Ramos’ is successful, Kaplan — who is also the Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic — said it would affect the cases in Oregon.
The state would have to change its law and any future cases would be affected. Additionally those pending cases that have either not gone to a jury or finalized its way through the appeals process would also be affected.
However, Kaplan said, any case previously decided by a non-unanimous jury would not be affected. ‘Ramos’ would be the law for future or pending cases only.
Both sides presented their arguments to the justices on the Supreme Court Monday and Kaplan told KOIN 6 News a lot of the discussion centered on the legal term stare decisis, that is, following previous decisions. If ‘Ramos’ is successful it would overturn a 1972 Supreme Court ruling.
Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh brought up the fact that defendants convicted by non-unanimous juries would have been acquitted in any other state, Kaplan said. Kavanaugh and others brought up the racist origins of the non-unanimous jury laws, as well.
Oregon switched from unanimous juries to non-unanimous verdicts by ballot measure in 1934, she said.
Even if the Supreme Court rules against ‘Ramos,’ she said Oregon should change the law. A proposal in the 2018 legislature to put it on the ballot for voters died in the legislature, she said.
A decision on Ramos vs Louisiana is expected sometime between December and February, Kaplan said.