With Unanimity and Justice for All: The Case for Retroactive Application of the Unanimous Jury Verdict Requirement

Kurland, Kara | October 1, 2021

Until the Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in Ramos v. Louisiana, non-unanimous jury verdicts were constitutional and utilized in two states: Louisiana and Oregon. The Ramos decision not only declared the practice of non-unanimous jury verdicts unconstitutional, but it also emphasized the essential nature of jury verdict unanimity in criminal trials throughout American history and legal jurisprudence. A year later, in Edwards v. Vannoy, the Court considered retroactive application of Ramos. Utilizing the test created in Teague v. Lane that assessed the retroactivity of new rules of criminal procedure, the Court announced that, despite the essential nature of the unanimous jury verdict requirement, it was not a “bedrock element of criminal procedure.” Therefore, like every other new rule of criminal procedure to date, this rule did not apply retroactively. After acknowledging that the Teague test had never found a new rule of criminal procedure to meet its demanding standard, Edwards then took the drastic step of eliminating the bedrock exception to Teague altogether. This Note argues that the Edwards Court was wrong in its analysis and conclusion to deny hundreds of prisoners relief based on non-unanimous jury verdicts that were obtained prior to Ramos. Though the Supreme Court has denied relief to those prisoners, this Note explains that state courts still have the ability to retroactively apply Ramos and that justice requires state courts to adjudicate non-unanimous jury verdict claims accordingly.