The validity of unanimous jury verdicts entered the public sphere when the United States Supreme Court issued Ramos vs. Louisiana. The 2020 ruling struck down the retroactive status, representing a landmark decision mandating unanimous jury verdicts to convict suspects of serious crimes.
Prior to the passage of unanimous jury verdicts, Evangelisto Ramos was convicted of murder in Louisiana on a 10–2 vote in 2016. His appeal of the conviction focused on non-unanimous jury decisions, citing the Jim Crow law established in 1898 that allowed racial discrimination within juries. The Louisiana Court of Appeal then upheld the sentence in November 2017.
Ramos went to The Supreme Court, which accepted the case in March of 2019.
Rights to a fair trial
In making the ruling, the high court relied on the sixth amendment to the Constitution, which provides rights to a fair trial that includes unanimous verdicts. It explicitly defines procedures to prosecute criminal suspects and ensures a jury trial for the suspect but does not detail the trial’s process, passing it on to the states to decide based on their own constitutions.
Following that decision, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that cases within their borders should retroactively be applied, ending the mandated 10-2 for conviction. The decision makes Louisiana (formerly 10-2 prior to a new constitutional amendment requiring unanimity) and Oregon the only two states not requiring unanimous verdicts.
Another Louisiana inmate named Thedrick Edwards was convicted in a 10-2 decision in 2007, which challenged Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury conviction law. He petitioned the Supreme Court during the same time period. That decision changed his petition to the Supreme Court to request the Ramos decision be retroactive to defendants who had exhausted all appeals. The court subsequently accepted Edwards’ case with oral arguments commencing on December 2, 2020.