Supreme Court Rules Juries Must Convict by Unanimous Consent in Criminal Trials


The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that defendants in criminal trials must be convicted by unanimous consent of the jury, outlawing a practice that has already been prohibited in all states except Oregon.

The 6-3 ruling in the case, Ramos v Louisiana, was delivered with an unusual alignment in which conservative Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, and Brett Kavanaugh joined with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor for the majority opinion. Justices Samuel Alito, Elena Kagan, and John Roberts dissented.

“Wherever we might look to determine what the term ‘trial by an impartial jury trial’ meant at the time of the Sixth Amendment’s adoption—whether it’s the common law, state practices in the founding era, or opinions and treatises written soon afterward—the answer is unmistakable,” Gorsuch wrote in an opinion for the majority. “A jury must reach a unanimous verdict in order to convict.”

While unanimous verdicts had previously been required for convictions in federal trials, most states have banned convictions by supermajority of a jury. The ruling applies a unanimous-conviction requirement in the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution to state law. Currently, Oregon is the only state which allows conviction of criminal defendants even if up to two jurors dissent. Louisiana outlawed the practice in 2019.

The current Supreme Court case was brought by Evangelisto Ramos, who was convicted of murder in Louisiana court in 2016 by a 10-2 jury verdict. The Supreme Court’s case could allow Ramos to receive a new trial.

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