United States Supreme Court Holds Oregon’s Non-Unanimous Jury System Unconstitutional

The United States Supreme Court recently issued its long-awaited opinion in Ramos v. Louisiana, which will have far reaching effects on the future of the Oregon criminal justice system. In Ramos, the Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of Louisiana’s and Oregon’s criminal jury trial systems that allowed a criminal defendant to be convicted of a felony when there was not complete juror unanimity on a verdict.

Reviewing the text of the United States Constitution, the Supreme Court recognized that the Sixth Amendment term “trial by an impartial jury” carries with it some meaning about the content and requirements of a jury trial. One such requirement in federal cases is that a jury must reach a unanimous verdict in order to convict a criminal defendant. Recognizing the importance of the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury, the Supreme Court held that criminal jury trial systems in Louisiana and Oregon were unconstitutional and that the entirety of the Sixth Amendment’s right to an impartial jury trial applies to the states as well as the federal government. Therefore, moving forward, a jury must reach a unanimous verdict to convict someone of a crime in Oregon (rather than by a vote of 10-2 under the previous system).

Ramos will have its most immediate effect on those convicted of crimes in Oregon by a non-unanimous jury verdict whose convictions are currently on direct appeal. However, there may be additional retroactive effects of the Supreme Court’s decision that could have far-ranging consequences for those seeking post-conviction relief as a result of being convicted by a non-unanimous jury verdict and whose direct appeals have already ended.