The New York Times Issues a Scathing Assessment of Oregon’s Non-Unanimous Jury Verdicts

In Oregon, just 10 votes are needed to convict for all felony charges besides murder.

Multnomah Justice Center (Joe Riedl)

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hand down a decision as early as this month which would determine whether or not Oregon courts will require unanimous, 12-juror verdicts. The ruling could mark the end of "one of the longest-lasting remnants of the legal infrastructure of old Jim Crow," Esquire wrote.

Oregon is the only state left in the nation that still allows non-unanimous verdicts. In Oregon, just 10 votes are needed to convict for all felony charges besides murder.

A New York Times Magazine story published in this week's edition highlighted the law's racist history, and the resulting socio-economic and racial inequities of such verdicts.

The law's inception has its roots in anti-Semitism, the article notes. Oregon introduced non-unanimous verdicts after a jury in 1933 was one vote short of convicting a Jewish man, Jacob Silverman.

"In 1933, a Jewish hotel owner was charged with the murder of two white Protestants in a gangland-style execution," reporter Emily Bazelon writes. "In a sensationalized trial, the jury returned a verdict of manslaughter rather than second-degree murder. The Morning Oregonian published editorials calling for nonunanimous juries in order to cope with 'vast immigration into America from Southern and Eastern Europe'—the latter region was where many Jewish newcomers originated—'of people untrained in the jury system.'"

Oregon voters approved non-unanimous jury verdicts a year later, in 1934.

Up until last year, Louisiana also allowed non-unanimous convictions, but the state repealed its law in 2018. (The change was not retroactive, and only applies to crimes committed after Jan. 1, 2019, which is why the case, called Ramos v. Louisiana, is before the U.S. Supreme Court.)

The movement to repeal Oregon's state law gained momentum in October of 2018 when it was backed by the Oregon District Attorneys Association. But prosecutors backed away from their pledge.

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