Oregon District Attorneys Association Says It Will Back Legislative Push To Require Unanimous Jury Verdicts

ODAA president Matt Shirtcliff penned an op-ed in The Oregonian pledging the organizations support for an effort that would end split-jury convictions.

Multnomah Justice Center (Joe Riedl)

The Oregon District Attorneys Association says it will back legislative efforts to require unanimous jury verdicts in all felony cases, to bring Oregon in line with the rest of the U.S.

ODAA president Matt Shirtcliff penned an op-ed in The Oregonian pledging the organization's support for an effort that would end split-jury convictions. Under current Oregon laws, juries can convict for all felony charges except murder with just 10 votes.

Louisiana voters repealed a similar law this month, leaving Oregon as the only state that allows people to be convicted without all 12 jurors agreeing.

In recent years, criminal justice reform advocates have made Oregon's split-jury verdicts a target. Lewis & Clark law professor Aliza Kaplan popularized the argument that the statute allowing non-unanimous verdicts was born out of racist sentiments and should be repealed.

In the op-ed, Shirtcliff pushed back on calls for prosecutors to unilaterally put an end to the split decisions themselves by asking judges to instruct juries to come to a unanimous verdict. That is a power reserved for jurors, not prosecutors, he argues.

"Simply put, prosecutors cannot waive a right that they do not possess," he says. "That is why it is critical that Oregon voters amend Oregon's state constitution to remove the possibility of a non-unanimous jury."

Despite the ODAA's backing, a handful of district attorneys still oppose changing the state law. On Nov. 17, Clatsop County DA Joshua Marquis, Tillamook County DA William B. Porter, and Jefferson County DA Steve Leriche wrote that they "trust Oregonians with non-unanimous juries."

But the state's top prosecutors had already floated the possibility of repealing the split-jury law in January. They indicated ODAA would pursue a 2020 ballot measure, but backed off the plan after reform advocates criticized their approach.

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