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Ramos v. Louisiana

Supreme Court of the United States

October 7, 2019, Argued; April 20, 2020, Decided

No. 18-5924.

Opinion

 [*588]  Justice Gorsuch announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II-A, III, and IV-B-1, an opinion with respect to Parts II-B, IV-B-2, and V, in which Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer, and Justice Sotomayor join, and an opinion with respect to Part IV-A, in which Justice Ginsburg and Justice Breyer join.

Accused of a serious crime, Evangelisto Ramos insisted on his innocence and invoked his right to a jury trial. Eventually, 10 jurors found the evidence against him persuasive. But [**7]  a pair of jurors believed that the State of Louisiana had failed to prove Mr. Ramos’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt; they voted to acquit.

In 48 States and federal court, a single juror’s vote to acquit is enough to prevent a conviction. But not in Louisiana. Along with Oregon, Louisiana has long punished people based on 10-to-2 verdicts like the one here. So instead of the mistrial he would have received almost anywhere else, Mr. Ramos was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Why do Louisiana and Oregon allow nonunanimous convictions? Though it’s hard to say why these laws persist, their origins are clear. Louisiana first endorsed nonunanimous verdicts for serious crimes at a constitutional convention in 1898. According to one committee chairman, the avowed purpose of that convention was to “establish the supremacy of the white race,” and the resulting document included many of the trappings of the Jim Crow era: a poll tax, a combined literacy and property ownership test, and a grandfather clause that in practice exempted white residents from the most onerous of these requirements. 1

Nor was it only the prospect of African-Americans voting that concerned the [**8]  delegates. Just a week before the convention, the U. S. Senate passed a resolution calling for an investigation into whether Louisiana was systemically excluding African-Americans from juries. 2 Seeking to avoid unwanted national attention, and aware that this Court would strike down any policy of overt discrimination against African-American jurors as a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, 3 the delegates sought to undermine African-American participation on juries in another way. With a careful eye on racial demographics, the convention delegates sculpted a “facially race-neutral” rule permitting 10-to-2 verdicts in order “to ensure that African-American juror service would be meaningless.” 4

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206 L. Ed. 2d 583 *; 2020 U.S. LEXIS 2407 **; 140 S. Ct. 1390; 8 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 144

EVANGELISTO RAMOS, PETITIONER v. LOUISIANA

Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.

Prior History:  [**1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEAL OF LOUISIANA, FOURTH CIRCUIT

State v. Ramos, 231 So. 3d 44, 2017 La. App. LEXIS 2013 (La.App. 4 Cir., Nov. 2, 2017)

Disposition: 2016-1199 (La. App. 4 Cir. 11/2/17), 231 So. 3d 44, reversed.

CORE TERMS

unanimity, non-unanimous, overrule, cases, stare decisis, convictions, decisions, juries, Marks, incorporation, jurors, rights, plurality, retroactivity, reasons, prior decision, jury trial, right to a jury trial, unanimous verdict, impartial jury, common law, jury-trial, factors, felony, bind, doctrine of stare decisis, criminal procedure, new rule, egregiously, effects

Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Criminal Process, Right to Jury Trial, Speedy Trial, Criminal Law & Procedure, Trials, Verdicts, Unanimity, Bill of Rights, State Application, Governments, Courts, Judicial Precedent