U.S. Supreme Court requires unanimous jury verdicts for serious crimes

By Lawrence Hurley The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the constitutional guarantee of trial by jury requires a unanimous verdict in serious crimes, siding with a Louisiana man convicted of murder and paving the way for potentially hundreds of defendants found guilty by divided juries to receive new trials. Only two of the 50 states, Louisiana and Oregon, have permitted non-unanimous verdicts

Reuters April 21, 2020 00:12:45 IST
U.S. Supreme Court requires unanimous jury verdicts for serious crimes

US Supreme Court requires unanimous jury verdicts for serious crimes

By Lawrence Hurley

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the constitutional guarantee of trial by jury requires a unanimous verdict in serious crimes, siding with a Louisiana man convicted of murder and paving the way for potentially hundreds of defendants found guilty by divided juries to receive new trials.

Only two of the 50 states, Louisiana and Oregon, have permitted non-unanimous verdicts. Writing for the court in the 6-3 ruling, conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch noted that the non-unanimous verdict requirement in both states traced back to past racist policies intended to reduce the power of non-white jurors to influence the outcome of trials.

The ruling, overturning a 1972 Supreme Court precedent, means that Evangelisto Ramos, who was convicted by a 12-member jury on a 10-2 vote, is likely to get a new trial. Ramos, found guilty in the 2014 New Orleans murder of a woman named Trinece Fedison whose body was found in a trash can, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The justices concluded that the U.S. Constitution's Sixth Amendment, which guarantees the right to an impartial trial, requires that jurors be unanimous to convict in serious criminal cases. Gorsuch noted that historically some minor crimes do not require a jury trial.

Louisiana updated its law to prohibit non-unanimous verdicts starting last year but that change did not apply retroactively.

The ruling could benefit hundreds of inmates convicted with non-unanimous verdicts in Louisiana and Oregon by leading to new trials.

"We are heartened that the court has held, once and for all, that the promise of the Sixth Amendment fully applies in Louisiana, rejecting any concept of second-class justice," said Ben Cohen, a lawyer for Ramos.

Gorsuch said there is evidence that when the Sixth Amendment was enacted, it was assumed there must be a unanimous verdict.

"This court has repeatedly and over many years recognized that the Sixth Amendment requires unanimity," Gorsuch wrote.

Two other conservative justices, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh, joined Gorsuch and three liberal justices - Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor - in the majority.

A 1972 Supreme Court ruling that state court juries did not have to be unanimous drove the divisions among the justices in the case. The majority voted to overrule that precedent, but the three dissenting justices said there was not a compelling reason to overturn it.

Writing in dissent, conservative Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the ruling "imposes a potentially crushing burden on the courts and criminal justice systems" in Louisiana and Oregon.

Liberal Justice Elena Kagan and conservative Chief Justice John Roberts also were in dissent.

How the court addresses overturning its own precedents is a topic of contention, with high stakes for abortion rights.

Abortion rights activists fear that the court's 5-4 conservative majority may seek to undermine or overturn its landmark 1973 ruling that legalized the procedure nationwide. The court is currently weighing a challenge to Louisiana abortion restrictions that could indicate which way it is heading, with a ruling due by the end of June.

(Reporting by Will Dunham)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Updated Date:

TAGS:

also read

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources
| Reuters
World

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources | Reuters

By Robin Emmott and John Irish | BRUSSELS/PARIS BRUSSELS/PARIS France and Germany will agree to a U.S. plan for NATO to take a bigger role in the fight against Islamic militants at a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday, but insist the move is purely symbolic, four senior European diplomats said.The decision to allow the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to join the coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq follows weeks of pressure on the two allies, who are wary of NATO confronting Russia in Syria and of alienating Arab countries who see NATO as pushing a pro-Western agenda."NATO as an institution will join the coalition," said one senior diplomat involved in the discussions. "The question is whether this just a symbolic gesture to the United States

China's Xi says navy should become world class
| Reuters
World

China's Xi says navy should become world class | Reuters

BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called for greater efforts to make the country's navy a world class one, strong in operations on, below and above the surface, as it steps up its ability to project power far from its shores.China's navy has taken an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and a new aircraft carrier launched last month.With President Donald Trump promising a US shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.Inspecting navy headquarters, Xi said the navy should "aim for the top ranks in the world", the Defence Ministry said in a statement about his visit."Building a strong and modern navy is an important mark of a top ranking global military," the ministry paraphrased Xi as saying.