12 In the Box – You All Count
As we try to reasonably exist in the socially distant Covid-sphere, we feel as though our lives are frozen—or substantially stalled. But, the world remains, and great change is before us, and some change will likely prove to be very corrective. And so, the good news is, these changes might not all be (or even mostly) for the worse. But we will need to dig deep within ourselves, innovate, be creative and compassionate, and work to construct bridges and roads to new places in a brave new world—near, far, virtual, real, within and outside ourselves.
We did receive a long overdue corrective change from the Supreme Court this week. And while the rational of the Court’s Nine Justices might be a bit frayed, the takeaway is clear: for a criminal defendant charged with a serious crime, every juror’s vote counts.
The background: In forty-eight States and the federal government, a single juror’s vote to acquit is enough to prevent a conviction. But until this week, there were two outliers–Louisiana and Oregon. These two states had long permitted convictions on 10-2 jury verdicts.
On 20 April 2020, the United States Supreme Court decided Ramos v. Louisiana, No. 18-5924 (Apr. 20, 2020), holding that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial—as incorporated against the States by way of the Fourteenth Amendment–requires a unanimous verdict to convict a defendant of a serious offense. The opinion, well worth a read, explicates the racist origins of non-unanimous jury verdicts.
Justice Gorsuch, who announced the judgement of the Court, provided some guiding insight to aid us all as we face the change before us:
On what ground would anyone have us leave Mr. Ramos in prison for the rest of his life? Not a single Member of this Court is prepared to say Louisiana secured his conviction constitutionally under the Sixth Amendment. No one before us suggests that the error was harmless. Louisiana does not claim precedent commands an affirmance. In the end, the best anyone can seem to muster against Mr. Ramos is that, if we dared to admit in his case what we all know to be true about the Sixth Amendment, we might have to say the same in some others. But where is the justice in that? Every judge must learn to live with the fact he or she will make some mistakes; it comes with the territory. But it is something else entirely to perpetuate something we all know to be wrong only because we fear the consequences of being right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is Reversed.
So be safe, but don’t fear the change of tomorrow…especially if it gives us a second chance to get it right.