The US Supreme Court ruled on Monday that defendants on trial in state courts for serious offenses must be convicted by a unanimous jury, under the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, which is incorporated to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment.
In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled in Apodaca v. Oregon that the Sixth Amendment guaranteed defendants in federal courts this right. Monday, the court extended this to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.
In Ramos v. Louisiana, Ramos was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole for second-degree murder. Under the Louisiana Constitution, in criminal trials prior to January 1, 2019, 10 jurors out of 12 were sufficient for a unanimous conviction. Oregon is the only other state with the same practice.
Writing for the 6-3 majority—although the entire opinion is only joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer—Justice Neil Gorsuch brought in the historical practice of unanimity as far back as fourteenth century England and explained that the change from Apodaca was not a failure of stare decicis. “We have an admittedly mistaken decision, on a constitutional issue, an outlier on the day it was decided, one that’s become lonelier with time,” he wrote.