Unanimous Jury Laws Under Review by the U.S. Supreme Court

On the opening day of the U.S. Supreme Court’s term, the Justices reviewed Louisiana’s state law allowing non-unanimous jury verdicts to convict a defendant. Based on a precedent in Apodaca v. Oregon (1972), where a four-justice plurality decided that unanimous juries were only required for convictions in federal court, states such as Louisiana have recently re-visited whether unanimous juries should be required for all state criminal convictions.

Split verdict convictions have been prevalent in Louisiana since a state convention in 1898 specified non-unanimous juries could find defendants guilty of “serious felonies.” Following the decision in Apodaca, the state changed its law to require 10 guilty votes to convict a defendant of a felony. However, this past year the Louisiana legislature acted through a ballot initiative to ban non-unanimous jury verdicts, but refused to make the measure retroactive. Learn more here.

This led to months of appeals and an eventual writ of certiorari grant from the high court. The decision first focuses on whether the “incorporation doctrine” should overturn the Apodaca decision and require all states to banish non-unanimous jury verdicts. The U.S. Supreme Court will also wrestle with whether this change should apply retroactively, which could alter verdicts for prosecutors throughout the country.

NDAA will be monitoring the case as a decision is expected next summer. For information on NDAA’s process for consideration of filing or joining an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court, please see our policy.

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