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Right to a Unanimous Jury Verdict Must Apply in State Criminal Court Cases

SPLC Statement on SCOTUS Ramos v. Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS--The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today in Ramos v. Louisiana, asking the court if the federal right to a unanimous jury verdict guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution applies to state criminal cases.

 

Until last fall, Louisiana was one of only two states (the other is Oregon) that allowed individuals to be convicted by  non-unanimous juries.   In November 2018, Louisianans voted overwhelmingly to end this Jim Crow era practice, which was adopted with the intent of diluting the black vote on juries.  As of January 1, 2019, when the new law  went into effect, Louisiana has joined the other 48 states that require a unanimous jury for conviction.  However, people in Louisiana are still being convicted by non-unanimous juries for alleged crimes that occurred before January 1, 2019.  

 

The new law came too late for Evangelisto Ramos, who was convicted of  second degree murder in 2015 even though only 10 of 12 jurors believed he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  He is now serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole based on this non-unanimous jury finding.  If Mr. Ramos prevails at the Supreme Court, he will be eligible for a new trial, and that new trial would require the votes of all twelve jurors to convict him.

 

The following is a statement from Lisa Graybill, deputy legal director of criminal justice reform for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

 

“The legacy of Jim Crow is a scourge the South must eliminate, and justice is overdue for men like Evangelisto Ramos and the many that have gone before him.  We cannot tolerate a judicial system that is structurally infected by racial bias, nor can we put our faith in a process that condemns individuals to spend decades in prison when the prosecution was unable to convince a full jury of  their guilt.

 

Louisiana is the most incarcerated state in the most incarcerated country in the world, and the 6th Amendment’s promise must be made real for the people of Louisiana.  Such ruling would be consistent with the Court’s recent jurisprudence - just last term, the justices ruled unanimously that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on excessive fines applied to the states through the 14th Amendment.

 

“Justice demands that the conviction of Evangelisto Ramos should be overturned.”

 

Lisa Graybill is available for interviews on Monday afternoon. Media interested in speaking with her should contact Larry Hannan at (850) 661-0934.