June 22, 2021

Oregon attorney general calls on state lawmakers to revisit non-unanimous jury verdicts

2 min read

Oregon ended non-unanimous jury verdicts in 2020. The state attorney general is now calling on state lawmakers to address whether old cases can be overturned. 

The state did away with 10-2 and 11-1 jury verdicts following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Ramos v. Louisiana in April of 2020, which deemed the practice unconstitutional. Oregon was the last state in the country to continue the Jim Crow-era practice up until 2020. Louisiana ended non-unanimous jury verdicts in 2018.

On Monday, a 6-3 ruling from the nation’s highest court in Edwards v. Vannoy,which concerned a Louisiana man sentenced to life in prison by a non-unanimous jury, determined states were free to retry cases decided by non-unanimous jury verdicts if they choose.

“States remain free, if they choose, to retroactively apply the jury-unanimity rule as a matter of state law in state post-conviction proceedings,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in the court’s majority opinion.

The Oregon Senate passed a bill last month codifying the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision. In May of 2020, the Oregon Supreme Court sent 16 cases back to trial court and reversed decisions in three cases, sending them back to a lower court.

In Ramos v. Louisiana, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum fought to keep the state’s non-unanimous jury verdicts. Speaking on the record with Oregon Public Broadcasting in 2019, Rosenblum expressed her support for ending the practice but cited her statutory duty to defend state law in court. She previously has expressed concern that retrying old cases could heap high costs onto cities and counties.

“If this Court were to overrule Apodaca, it would invalidate convictions in hundreds if not thousands of cases,” Rosenblum and other state attorneys wrote in their 2019 arguments before the Supreme Court. “The state’s trial, appellate, and post conviction courts would be flooded with non-unamity claims to resolve and overwhelmed by the staggering number of cases that would have to retried.”

On Tuesday, Rosenblum called on state lawmakers to decide if retrying non-unanimous jury cases is in Oregon’s best interests. She did not state one way or another what she wants the state legislature to do.

“There are hundreds of adults in custody in Oregon prisons who may have been convicted on at least one count by a non-unanimous jury,” Rosenblum said in a statement. “I am calling on the legislature to, as soon as possible, convene an informational hearing to discuss how the legislature can assist in the expeditious resolution of these cases.”

Washington state faces similar challenges retrying old drug possession cases. It passed legislation demoting the offense to a misdemeanor this session.

No hearings on the matter are scheduled in the Oregon legislature, set to adjourn on June 28.

This article was originally posted on Oregon attorney general calls on state lawmakers to revisit non-unanimous jury verdicts

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