Ramos v. Louisiana

Justia Summary

In 48 states and in federal court, a single juror’s vote to acquit is enough to prevent a conviction; Louisiana and Oregon punish people based on 10-to-2 verdicts. Ramos was convicted in a Louisiana court by a 10-to-2 jury verdict and was sentenced to life without parole.

The Supreme Court reversed. The Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, as incorporated against the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, requires a unanimous verdict to convict a defendant of a serious offense. Juror unanimity is a vital common law right. The Court rejected an “invitation” to “perform a cost-benefit analysis on the historic features of common law jury trials and to conclude that unanimity does not make the cut.” In overturning its 1972 “Apodaca” decision, the Court stated that the reasoning, in that case, was “gravely mistaken” and “sits uneasily with 120 years of preceding case law.” The fact that Louisiana and Oregon may need to retry defendants convicted of felonies by non-unanimous verdicts whose cases are still pending on direct appeal “will surely impose a cost, but new rules of criminal procedure usually do.”