Supreme Court Ends Non-Unanimous Juries in Oregon

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 6-3 that in a criminal trial, a jury vote of 10-2 or even 11-1 is not sufficient: the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal justice before the law requires that convictions be unanimous in every state court, just as they are in Federal court.  

Oregon only state left for non-unanimous juries: That was already the law for decades in 48 states, with only Oregon and Louisiana allowing non-unanimous convictions. In 2018, a ballot initiative abolished non-unanimous juries in Louisiana, leaving only Oregon still convicting suspects on a split vote.  

What the ruling may mean in Oregon: A prisoner in Louisiana appealed his 2014 conviction to the Supreme Court, which resulted in Monday’s ruling. It does not require Oregon to re-examine the cases of prisoners serving sentences for non-unanimous convictions, but state authorities say they may do so. Nearly 3,000 convictions of persons currently imprisoned could be affected.  

Unusual Supreme Court vote: At a time when so many Supreme Court rulings are decided 5-4, with only a couple of Justices considered likely to “swing” between the conservative and progressive sides, the grouping of Justices this time was unusual: the three dissenters who voted to preserve non-unanimous juries were Thomas, Kavanaugh and Sotormayor. Thomas and Kavanaugh are two of the most conservative justices on the court, while Sotomayor is one of the most progressive.  

John M. Burt