Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Ramos v. Louisiana that the federal right to a unanimous jury under the Sixth Amendment applies to states.
“This is a significant victory against Jim Crow era laws whose only purpose is racial discrimination,” said Lisa Graybill, deputy legal director at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Unanimous juries are a critical part of ensuring a more fair criminal justice system. If the state cannot prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt to all twelve jurors, then the individual should not be convicted. What happened to Mr. Ramos and the thousands like him is a miscarriage of justice that we must correct, starting today. No one should serve time in prison based a faulty and biased trial.”
Until recently, Louisiana was one of only two states (the other is Oregon) that allowed individuals to be convicted of felonies by only a 10/2, instead of a 12/12, or unanimous, vote. 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. Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration in the country.
As of January 1, 2019, when the new law went into effect, Louisiana joined the other 48 states that require a unanimous jury for felony conviction. However, people in Louisiana were still being convicted by non-unanimous juries for alleged crimes that occurred before January 1, 2019.
The plaintiff, Evangelisto Ramos, was convicted in 2015 even though only 10 of 12 jurors believed he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In 48 other states, this would have been considered a mistrial. Instead he has been serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole based on this non-unanimous jury finding. Under today’s ruling, Mr. Ramos should be eligible for a new trial that would require agreement from all twelve jurors to convict him.