Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum on Friday filed a “friend of the court” brief in a U.S. Supreme Court case that has the potential to invalidate thousands of non-unanimous jury convictions, reported The Oregonian.
Although Rosenblum personally opposes the provision of the Oregon Constitution that allows non-unanimous jury verdicts, she argued in the amicus brief that the Supreme Court should not overrule a 1972 case called Apodaca v. Oregon that upheld split jury decisions.
“A ruling in this case that the Sixth Amendment requires unanimity in state prosecutions will overturn hundreds if not thousands of past convictions, convictions that Oregon has a legitimate reliance interest in maintaining,” Rosenblum wrote in the brief.
Oregon is the only state in the nation that still allows convictions for crimes short of first-degree murder by non-unanimous juries. Voters in Louisiana, the other state to most recently allow non-unanimous convictions, voted in November 2018 to amend their state’s constitution to end the practice.
Read Rosenblum’s brief here.
State lawmakers were poised to ask voters to end non-unanimous jury verdicts in Oregon earlier this year but after the bill unanimously passed the House, Senate Democrats allowed it to die quietly in the final days of the legislative session. Democrats including Rep. Jennifer Williamson, of Portland, cited the Louisiana Supreme Court case, saying it would be difficult to campaign for a state constitutional amendment at the same time the issue might be under consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Louisiana case centers on a 10-2 verdict against oil rig supply boat worker Evangelisto Ramos, who was convicted of second-degree murder in the killing of Trenice Fedison. Ramos slit Fedison’s throat and stabbed her seven times, then dumped her headfirst into a trashcan near her home the day before Thanksgiving in 2014. No murder weapon was found, but DNA evidence including semen linked Ramos to Fedison and the trash can where her partially clothed body was found, The Times-Picayune reported.
In a news release Friday, Rosenblum made clear she would like to end Oregon’s status as the only remaining state that allows non-unanimous jury verdicts.
“I want it to be understood that I fully support repealing Oregon’s non-unanimous jury rule, the origin of which has been linked to racism and anti-Semitism,” Rosenblum said. “Requiring unanimous juries would ensure fair representation, promote systemic accountability and legitimacy, and bring Oregon in line with all 49 of our sister states. That is why I support referring an Oregon constitutional amendment to voters that would change Oregon’s law going forward.”
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