Ramos v. Louisiana and the Jim Crow Origins of Nonunanimous Juries

Ramos v. Louisiana, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court last Monday and summarized here, holds that the Sixth Amendment impartial jury guarantee gives defendants a right to a unanimous jury verdict in state trials. The case is making waves for reasons tangential to the dispute between the parties: in a dizzyingly split opinion, the justices argue more over the meaning of stare decisis (the court’s obligation to follow its prior holdings) than whether defendants in state courts may be convicted by a less-than-unanimous jury. This aspect of the opinion has been widely discussed (see analysis here, here, here, and here), and foreshadows the justices’ likely battle over an upcoming reproductive rights case. Since the divergent perspectives on stare decisis have been covered elsewhere, I will consider another issue that split the justices: the legal relevance of the nonunanimous jury law’s Jim Crow origins.

First, a pop quiz

Did North Carolina ever allow non unanimous jury verdicts in criminal trials? Read on for the answer.

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Update on Jury Trial Waivers

In 2014, North Carolina’s voters approved an amendment to the state constitution. The amendment enabled a criminal defendant charged with a crime in superior court to waive his or her right to a jury trial, and instead have his or her guilt or innocence determined by a judge. I wrote a report about the amendment before it was adopted; I wrote about some of the procedural questions raised by the amendment after it passed; and I wrote about 2015 legislation that changed or clarified the waiver procedures. Now we have an appellate case that addresses two issues pertinent to jury trial waivers, so I thought I’d write about that.

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Stealth Constitutional Amendment Could Bring Big Changes

This fall, North Carolina voters will decide whether to amend the state constitution. The proposed amendment would allow, for the first time, bench trials for felonies in superior court. Neither the media nor advocacy groups have paid much attention to the amendment, so almost no one seems to know that it is on the table. For … Read more