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Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Unanimous Verdict

     In 2016, Evangelisto Ramos was found guilty of murder in Louisiana after the jury voted ten to two for conviction. The judge sentenced Ramos to life in prison. His attorney appealed the conviction on grounds a non-unanimous guilty verdict in a criminal case is inconsistent with the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.

     In 2016, only two states, Louisiana and Oregon, allowed un-unanimous guilty verdicts in criminal trials. The rule permitting such verdicts dated back to the 1930s to prevent black jurors from blocking the convictions of black criminal defendants.

     The Ramos case went up to the United States Supreme Court, and on April 20, 2020, the highest court in the land, with Justice Neil Gorsuch writing the majority opinion, set aside the Ramos murder conviction. The decision put an end to criminal convictions based on less than an unanimous jury vote.

     Justice Gorsuch, setting out the court's rationalization for the decision, wrote: "Adopted in the 1930's [the un-unanimous verdict rule] can be traced to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and efforts to delete the influence of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities on juries."

     Three justices--John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Elena Kagan--dissented. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Alito wrote: "All the talk about the Klan, etc., is entirely out of place."

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