Policy Letter

Amicus Brief: Jury Trial Protections Should Apply to Everyone

(Illustration: CJ Ostrosky / POGO)

A group of prominent former judges and prosecutors, including several former state supreme court justices and attorneys general, is urging the Supreme Court to ensure people convicted of crimes under an unjust rule can appeal their sentences.

For over a century, the Supreme Court has recognized that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial requires most federal criminal convictions to come from unanimous juries. It took until earlier this year to finally clarify that defendants in state courts, who up until then could be convicted on a 10-2 jury vote in some instances, are entitled to the same protection. The ruling meant that Louisiana and Oregon—the last two states to allow convictions on a 10-2 jury vote—had to update their laws. But the ruling did not address whether people already convicted by non-unanimous juries could appeal their sentences. Next term, the Supreme Court will answer that question in Edwards v. Vannoy.

The group’s amicus brief emphasizes that jury unanimity is an essential safeguard in criminal procedures. As the court itself has acknowledged, Louisiana and Oregon created their less-stringent requirements with the express goal of diluting the power of racial minorities serving on juries. Blocking the review of convictions secured under a racist system that deprived defendants of an essential right would be a grave injustice.