Ban on Non-Unanimous Verdicts Is Not Retroactive, Supreme Court Rules

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that its decision last year banning non-unanimous jury verdicts in instances involving critical crimes didn’t apply retroactively, dashing the hopes of 1000’s of inmates for brand spanking new trials.

The 6-to-Three choice cut up alongside ideological strains, with the court docket’s six Republican appointees within the majority and its three Democratic ones in dissent.

Last 12 months’s choice, Ramos v. Louisiana, struck down a provision of the Louisiana Constitution that allowed convictions if 10 of 12 jurors agreed. Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, writing for almost all, mentioned the supply was a relic of white supremacy — an try and guarantee that one or two Black jurors couldn’t stop the convictions of Black defendants.

When the new case was argued in December, Justice Clarence Thomas famous the supply’s “sordid roots” and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh referred to its “racist origins.”

The Ramos choice utilized solely to defendants whose convictions weren’t but closing. The query for the justices within the new case, Edwards v. Vannoy, No. 19-5807, was whether or not the choice must also apply to inmates who had exhausted their appeals within the two states that had allowed non-unanimous verdicts, Louisiana and Oregon.

“Under this court’s retroactivity precedents,” Justice Kavanaugh wrote for almost all on Monday, “the answer is no.”

The new case, from Louisiana, was introduced by Thedrick Edwards, a Black man who was charged with armed theft, rape and kidnapping. During jury choice, prosecutors used 10 of their 11 strikes to exclude Black potential jurors, and in the long run the jury included one Black member.

The verdict was 10 to 2 on some counts and 11 to 1 on others, with the Black juror voting to acquit on the entire costs. Mr. Edwards was sentenced to life in jail.

A 1989 choice, Teague v. Lane, mentioned new rulings on guidelines of felony process ordinarily don’t apply retroactively. But it made an exception for brand spanking new “watershed rules” that handle the elemental equity and accuracy of trials.

The exception had by no means been used, and on Monday the court docket did away with it.

“It is time — probably long past time — to make explicit what has become increasingly apparent to bench and bar over the last 32 years: New procedural rules do not apply retroactively on federal collateral review,” Justice Kavanaugh wrote. “The watershed exception is moribund.”

Justice Kavanaugh added: “Continuing to articulate a theoretical exception that never actually applies in practice offers false hope to defendants, distorts the law, misleads judges and wastes the resources of defense counsel, prosecutors and courts.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Thomas, Gorsuch, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Amy Coney Barrett joined the bulk opinion.

In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan mentioned final 12 months’s choice in Ramos had insisted on a basic change within the legislation to make sure honest procedures and to handle racial injustice. “If you were scanning a thesaurus for a single word to describe the decision,” she wrote, “you would stop when you came to ‘watershed.’”

Justice Kagan had dissented in Ramos, saying a 1972 precedent had required her to vote that manner. On Monday, on comparable grounds, she criticized the bulk for its therapy of the Teague choice.

“Seldom has this court so casually, so offhandedly, tossed aside precedent,” she wrote. “In its page of analysis, the majority offers just one ground for its decision — that since Teague, the court has not identified a new rule as watershed, and so ‘the purported exception has become an empty promise.’”

“But even viewed in the abstract, that argument does not fly,” Justice Kagan wrote. “That the court has not found a watershed rule since Teague does not mean it could or would not in the future.”

She added that the Ramos choice simply certified as a watershed ruling in its vindication of “the need to ensure, in keeping with the nation’s oldest traditions, fair and dependable adjudications of a defendant’s guilt.”

Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined Justice Kagan’s dissent.

Justice Kavanaugh wrote that Justice Kagan was in no place to criticize the bulk “for supposedly shortchanging criminal defendants” in gentle of her dissent in Ramos.

“Criminal defendants as a group,” he wrote, “are better off under Ramos and today’s decision, taken together, than they would have been if Justice Kagan’s dissenting view had prevailed in Ramos.”

Justice Kagan appeared to seek out the critique offensive.

“It treats judging as score keeping — and more, as score keeping about how much our decisions, or the aggregate of them, benefit a particular kind of party,” she wrote. “I see the matter differently. Judges should take cases one at a time, and do their best in each to apply the relevant legal rules.”

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