United States Supreme Court rules that the Sixth Amendment requires a unanimous jury in criminal trials.

On April 20, 2020, United States Supreme Court overturned the Louisiana state conviction of Mr. Ramos where he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole on the basis that it violated his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial because only 10 out of the 12 jurors in Mr. Ramos’ case found him guilty. In 48 States (including Kansas and Missouri) and federal court, a single juror’s vote to acquit is enough to prevent a conviction, meaning that in 48 states and in federal court a jury must be unanimous on guilt in order to convict a defendant. If a jury was not able to come to a unanimous decision for either guilty or not guilty in these 48 states and federal court, then the court declares a mistrial and the case can be tried again. Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, only defendants in Louisiana and Oregon could be convicted if at least 10 of the 12 jurors believed in his or her guilt. The ruling in Ramos v. Louisiana now means that all 50 states and federal courts require a unanimous verdict in order to convict a defendant.

Louisiana passed an amendment in 2018 to require the jury unanimity. However, the amendment did not apply to convictions which occurred prior to the 2018 Amendment’s enactment. The Ramos decision will give Louisiana defendants that were convicted prior to the 2018 amendment new grounds to challenge their convictions if they were convicted by less than a unanimous jury. The Ramos decision also invalidates Oregon’s “10-to-2” verdicts. Of note, Oregon law makers had introduced legislation to require jury unanimity, but it had not yet passed. Like Louisiana, Oregon defendants that were convicted by less than a unanimous jury will also be able to challenge their convictions.

We encourage everyone to read Justice Gorsuch’s full opinion as he gives a very thorough and interesting historical review of the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, one of the most important rights afforded to us all. The full opinion can be found here.