Amicus Brief in Ramos v. Louisiana: Statement from Attorney General Rosenblum

August 23, 2019
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In 1934, Oregonians voted to amend the Oregon constitution to allow for non-unanimous 11-1 or 10-2 jury verdicts in criminal prosecutions.  The United States Supreme Court upheld the use of non-unanimous verdicts in a 1972 case called Apodaca v. Oregon.  This fall, the Court will be considering another case (Ramos v. Louisiana) in which it is being asked to overrule Apodaca and conclude that non-unanimous juries violate the federal constitution.  Today Oregon is filing an amicus brief asking the Court not to overrule Apodaca.  The brief explains that overruling Apodaca could invalidate the convictions in hundreds if not thousands of significant criminal cases in Oregon that have been tried over the past eight decades.  The brief argues that the Court should take into account the fact that the state has relied on its 1972 Apodaca ruling.

Attorney General Rosenblum offered the following statement:

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.  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.

But it is important that the U.S. Supreme Court understand the practical consequences should it reverse its decades-old determination that the United States Constitution allows non-unanimous verdicts.  Reinterpreting federal constitutional requirements after 40-plus years would call into question thousands of settled criminal cases, and could require new trials in hundreds, if not thousands, of cases.  Those new trials would re-traumatize crime victims and survivors and overwhelm our state’s criminal justice system.  As the state’s chief legal officer it is my obligation to defend the validity of 47 years of criminal convictions secured in compliance with Supreme Court precedent.

The brief that Oregon has submitted simply explains the reliance interests of the state – and of victims – in maintaining the validity of past convictions.  It does not argue that non-unanimous juries are good policy.  The brief in no way undercuts my view that Oregon should require juror unanimity in criminal cases going forward.

The Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) is led by Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, and serves as the state’s law firm. The Oregon DOJ advocates for and protects all Oregonians, especially the most vulnerable, such as children and seniors.