Author Topic: Argument analysis: Justices weigh constitutionality of non-unanimous jury rule  (Read 512 times)

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Online Elderberry

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SCOTUSblog by Amy Howe 10/7/2019

Last year Louisiana repealed a state law that allowed a criminal defendant (except in capital cases) to be convicted without a unanimous verdict from the jury. But the change only applied to crimes committed on or after January 1, 2019. So this afternoon the Supreme Court heard oral argument in a challenge to the constitutionality of Louisiana’s non-unanimity rule filed by an inmate who was convicted of a 2014 murder. In recent years, the Supreme Court has turned down similar challenges, but both the court’s decision to take up this appeal and today’s oral argument suggest that the justices may be ready to strike down the non-unanimity rule, which is still in use in Oregon, once and for all. But complicating the debate over the non-unanimity rule is a broader ongoing dispute over the importance of adhering to precedent, especially as controversial issues like abortion rights arrive at the court.

The inmate, Evangelisto Ramos, has maintained that he was not responsible for the stabbing death of Trinece Fedison, whose body was found in a trash can in New Orleans. However, after 10 of the 12 jurors on Ramos’ jury voted to convict him, Ramos was sentenced to life in prison at hard labor, and a state appeals court upheld his sentence. The Supreme Court agreed to weigh in on his case last spring.

The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution establishes the right to an “impartial jury.” However, when they were originally enacted, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution (collectively known as the Bill of Rights) were interpreted as applying only to the federal government, not to the states. Over time, the Supreme Court ruled that some (and eventually most) of the Bill of Rights also applies to the states – a doctrine known as “incorporation” – through the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which bars states from depriving anyone of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” And earlier this year, the justices ruled unanimously that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on excessive fines applies to the states through the 14th Amendment.