In April of 2020 in the case Ramos v. Louisiana, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the provision of the Louisiana Constitution (and similar laws of Oregon and Puerto Rico) stating that a defendant can be convicted of a felony offense if only 10 of the 12 jurors agreed to convict violates the U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment guarantee of a trial by impartial jury. After review of the legislative and constitutional histories, state practices, decades of conviction statistics, and most specifically, the Louisiana Constitutional Convention of 1898, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Louisiana’s concept of the non-unanimous jury or “split jury” for conviction was racially motivated to ensure that one or two Black jurors could not prevent the convictions of Black defendants.
In the fall of 2018, Louisiana voters beat the Supreme Court to the punch by voting to amend the Louisiana Constitution by banning the future practice of non-unanimous jury verdicts. Nonetheless, the Ramos decision presently applies to Louisiana defendants whose convictions were not yet final, i.e., prosecutions and appeals pending at the time of the Ramos decision.
A Natchitoches example of the Ramos decision in action is the case of State v. Ervin Walker. In August of 2018, Mr. Walker was convicted of Illegal Use of Weapons During a Crime of Violence by a non-unanimous jury verdict and sentenced to 17 years. Since his case was on appeal at the time of the Ramos decision was rendered, the Louisiana Third Circuit overturned the verdict and remanded the case back to Natchitoches for retrial under the unanimous-verdict standard. Walker was retried earlier this week where the jury found him guilty of a lesser crime, Illegal Use of Weapons, by a unanimous verdict, which carries a maximum sentence of two years. Since Walker has been incarcerated for more than two years on this offense, at his sentencing on April 8, he was sentenced to 2 years credit for time served.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce its ruling in Edwards v. Vannoy deciding whether its Ramos decision applies retroactively to those whose appeals have expired.