Today, in the case of RAMOS vs LOUISIANA, April 20, 2020 (No. 18-5924), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a unanimous jury verdict is required in cases involving serious crimes. It held the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to a jury trial, also requires the verdict in serious crimes to be unanimous. Since 1968, the 6th Amendment has been applied against states under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145 (1968).
Up to this point, a single juror’s vote to acquit a defendant was enough to prevent a conviction in 48 States and the federal courts. The state of Oregon now remains the only state that permits a non unanimous verdict in the case of a serious offense; this distinction exists because the right to a jury trial is inapplicable to “petty offenses.”
The Court addressed the historical significance by declaring: “The requirement of juror unanimity emerged in 14th-century England and was soon accepted as a vital right protected by the common law.” It further reasoned: ” So if the Sixth Amendment’s right to a jury trial requires a unanimous verdict to support a conviction in federal court, it requires no less in state court.”
The result of the Court’s decision is that defendants and prisoners in Louisiana and Oregon, the only two states in recent years that have allowed such verdicts, will have their cases overturned claiming their verdicts are now void.