Op-ed: Trevor Walraven on Unanimous Juries in Oregon, and Lessons Learned

Trevor Walraven of Eugene, Oregon is the Director of Public Education and Outreach for the Oregon Justice Resource Center’s Youth Justice Project, which aids incarcerated youth in navigating the legal system following the passing of Senate Bill 1008 in 2019. 

Walraven responds here to the recent SCOTUS ruling that means convictions in Oregon will now require unanimous juries. Oregon was the only state not requiring unanimity before the ruling. Even Louisiana, who was the defendant in the case, had changed their procedure prior to the ruling.  

The US Supreme Court recently ruled in Ramos v. Louisiana that jury verdicts must be unanimous. In my opinion, this is a long overdue correction to our justice system.  

As I read through some of the articles pertaining to this issue, I was struck by some of the quotes acknowledging our flawed system here in Oregon as the last standing state which allowed nonunanimous convictions. Elected officials in a variety of capacities were quoted as supporting this change and yet we were the last state to do something about it. I think it is noteworthy to acknowledge as well that this correction was not made by us but rather by the US Supreme Court.   

While I am fully supportive of the democratic system which engages our voters to move forward in a consensus-driven way, I also understand that some issues are quite complex. Expecting society to make decisions on complicated issues does not always serve the collective best interests. I, therefore, always encourage constituents to contact their elected officials and advocate for the changes that are desired in their communities.  

Additionally, I think that it is imperative for our elected officials to consider offerings of expertise when deciding issues on all levels. Some of that expertise comes from professionals who are specifically knowledgeable about the issue at hand, and some of that experience needs to come from those with lived experience. Impacted parties on all sides and those who are coming from a diversity of backgrounds should be included in any well-informed decision.   

Part of what I have seen occur over and over again in our criminal justice system are all parties involved including the defendant, loved ones and victim / survivors who do not understand the complexities of what our legal system entails. There is a reason that law school exists and having a firm understanding – of what convictions mean, how appeals are carried out, why laws are what they are, etc. – takes studying and constant engagement to keep up with.  

When big decisions like Ramos come out, or changes to the way we conduct justice such as with Senate Bill 1008 from the 2019 legislative session, there can be a plethora of emotions on all sides of the issue. There are those feeling vindicated and as though justice will finally be served as well as the polar opposite, grappling with tremendous feelings of injustice as convictions are reconsidered and matters brought back in front of the courts. Because of this and due to the value I personally place on both healing and understanding, I would once again encourage folks to reach out to those with expertise in the areas of concern.   

By Trevor Walraven