The United States Supreme Court on Monday handed down its verdict in Ramos v. Louisiana, effectively overturning a provision of the Oregon Constitution that allowed non-unanimous juries to convict on felony charges.
Prior to today, Oregon was the only state left in the country that required just 10 of 12 juror votes to convict a defendant of all felonies except murder.
For decades, criminal justice reform advocates have argued such a policy is unconstitutional.
"After 85 years, the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Ramos v. Louisiana today has finally ended an unjust rule with a shameful past in Oregon," said Aliza Kaplan, director of the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School, in a statement. "Now Oregon will be able to join the rest of the country and require unanimous juries in all criminal cases, ensuring a more fair trial for all those accused of crimes and ensuring that all jurors' voices are heard and part of the decision-making process as they should be."
The decision to allow non-unanimous jury verdicts in Oregon was rooted in anti-Semitism. The state introduced non-unanimous verdicts after a jury in 1933 was one vote short of convicting a Jewish defendant, Jacob Silverman, WW previously reported. Oregon voters approved non-unanimous jury verdicts a year later, in 1934.
The movement to require unanimous verdicts in Oregon gained momentum in 2018, when the Oregon District Attorneys Association began working to amend the state's constitution, but prosecutors quickly abandoned their effort.
In response to today's decision, the ODAA said it is reviewing the opinion for its impact on both closed and pending criminal convictions statewide.
"ODAA acknowledges that a change to unanimous verdicts could make criminal convictions more difficult," the organization said in a statement. "However, it is a hallmark of our justice system that it should be difficult to take someone's liberty. This is evidenced by the fact that in criminal cases a defendant is presumed innocent and the state prosecutor must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum issued a statement regarding the Supreme Court decision.
"This is good news! It is an embarrassment to our otherwise progressive state that we are the only state in the country with a law in our constitution that allows criminal convictions without juror unanimity," Rosenblum wrote. "We have been working closely for months with our appellate courts and with the leadership of the criminal defense bar to plan our case review and the judicial process that will ensue. We will also need to be in contact with the many crime victims and their families who are impacted by this decision."