The United States Supreme Court stunned many observers in 2020 by ruling that jurors must be unanimous when they return a guilty verdict.
Nearly three years later, the man who was at the center of the case just walked free after his murder conviction was reversed.
Verdict to convict was not unanimous
According to 4WWL, New Orleans man Evangelisto Ramos was found not guilty this week of murdering 43-year-old Trinece Fedison.
Ramos was given a sentence of life without parole after he was convicted of killing Fedison in 2016. While two of Ramos’ jurors voted to acquit, Louisiana law allowed juries to convict based on a majority vote.
Ramos went on to challenge the constitutionality of that law, and Fox News reported in 2020 that the Supreme Court found in his favor.
The ruling was unusual in that it cut across ideological lines, with Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch being supported in his majority opinion by fellow conservatives Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas as well as liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Kavanaugh pointed to racial factors in the case
“[T]he Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial is incorporated against the States under the Fourteenth Amendment,” Gorsuch wrote. “Thus, if the jury trial right requires a unanimous verdict in federal court, it requires no less in state court.”
Kavanaugh stressed that “[t]hen and now, non-unanimous juries can silence the voices and negate the votes of black jurors, especially in cases with black defendants or black victims, and only one or two black jurors.”
Meanwhile, a dissent was written by conservative Justice Samuel Alito. He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, a Republican appointee, and Justice Elena Kagan, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama.
“Lowering the bar for overruling our precedents, a badly fractured majority casts aside an important and long-established decision with little regard for the enormous reliance the decision has engendered,” Alito insisted.
Alito says decision will undermine confidence in Supreme Court
Alito pointed out that both Louisiana and Oregon have tried thousands of criminal cases without requiring unanimous verdicts based on the Supreme Court’s 1972 ruling.
He also complained that the majority opinion “imposes a potentially crushing burden on the courts and criminal justice systems of those States.”
Alito went on to allege that it “brushes aside these consequences and even suggests that the States should have known better than to count on our decision.”
Only Louisiana and Oregon were affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling as all other states along with the federal government had already adopted laws requiring unanimous verdicts in criminal cases.