Oregon Supreme Court Decides That People Convicted by Divided Juries Should Be Given Fresh Trials

Oregon Supreme Court Decides: The Oregon Supreme Court ruled on Friday that hundreds of people who were given non-unanimous jury convictions in the state before the U.S. Supreme Court threw them down are entitled to a new trial. If a criminal conviction in Oregon was final and all appeals had been exhausted prior to the 2020 Supreme Court judgement, then the court’s rule will apply to the case.

Oregon Supreme Court Decides That People Convicted by Divided Juries

The state’s justice department has promised swift action in response to the ruling. At least 400 convictions, according to Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, may be affected. In the 1930s, voters in Oregon approved a measure allowing for 10-2 or 11-1 jury convictions in criminal matters other than first-degree murder. Up until recently, at least one juror’s doubt was sufficient for a conviction in Oregon or Louisiana.

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In 2020, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Ramos v. Louisiana that non-unanimous jury judgements violate defendants’ right to a trial by jury and had racist origins, and hence were hereby abolished.

According to a court opinion written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the policy should be abandoned because it is a relic of discriminatory policies like the Jim Crow laws in Louisiana and the racial, ethnic, and religious intolerance that contributed to the policy’s establishment in Oregon.

Oregon Supreme Court Decides That People Convicted by Divided Juries
Oregon Supreme Court Decides That People Convicted by Divided Juries

There is “in reality no one before us contesting any of this,” as Gorsuch put it. “In fact, no one before us challenges any of this; courts in both Louisiana and Oregon have candidly admitted that race was a motivating factor in the establishment of their States’ different non-unanimity rules.”

The Supreme Court of Oregon took a similar view in its verdict last Friday.

Non-unanimous juries were approved by Oregon voters “as a means of excluding nonwhites from meaningful participation in our justice system,” according to Senior Judge and Justice pro tempore Richard Baldwin. “While Oregon did not approve non-unanimous juries as part of a brutal programme of racist Jim Crow measures against Black Americans,” he wrote. “With that comprehension โ€” and with a modicum of bravery โ€” we may learn from our history and avert such grave harm to the civic health of our nation in the future.”

Attorney General

Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum of Oregon, criminal justice activists, and defence attorneys all applauded the verdict. In 2010, Ryan O’Connor, a defence attorney from Portland, Oregon, represented Jacob Watkins, who was found guilty of four crimes by a jury of 10-2. While O’Connor has not yet talked with Watkins, who is still incarcerated, he has heard from Watkins’ family that they are overjoyed at the judgement.

Friday was “a truly beautiful day for justice” in Oregon, as O’Connor told The Associated Press. “They said it’s the nicest holiday gift they’ve ever gotten.” There might be hundreds of convictions that are overturned because of this. People have been languishing in prison on unconstitutional verdicts for a long time, and that doesn’t change now.

A majority of Oregon’s district attorneys are sceptical of the decision. Retrying cases from decades ago “may be problematic if not impossible,” it said, adding that this presented a serious problem for victims of crime.

In a press release, it was said that “many of these instances that will be compelled to be retried are violent person offences, and will inflict considerable victim re-traumatization.” We must make sure that these victims, many of whom are women and children, are spared the horror of having to testify against their abusers again.

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According to the state’s justice department, after the 2020 U.S. Supreme Court judgement, the Appellate Division in Oregon evaluated more than 750 pending criminal conviction appeals and found hundreds needed to be reversed. Over 470 cases have subsequently been remanded for fresh trials by Oregon’s appellate courts, the department reported.

Even though the statute of limitations may prevent remedy for some extremely old crimes, state justice department officials have suggested that convictions extending back decades may be reversed.

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