Law change with local impact


Last updated 3/28/2023 at Noon

The Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a statement last December explaining how a ruling that is now kicking old cases back to local jurisdictions like Deschutes County came about.

“(The) Oregon Supreme Court in Watkins v. Ackley held that the requirement of unanimous jury verdicts in serious criminal cases applies to older criminal cases as well as those still on appeal. In doing so, the Court acknowledged that Oregon law had not been clear on this important issue of retroactivity…

“In 1934, Oregon voters enacted a law that allowed for non-unanimous jury verdicts of 10-2 or 11-1 in most criminal cases.

“In 1972, in Apodaca v. Oregon, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Oregon’s non-unanimous jury verdicts. Oregon continued to allow non-unanimous verdicts until 2020…

“In April 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Ramos v. Louisiana that under the U.S. Constitution, a criminal defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial includes the right to a unanimous jury verdict. Oregon DOJ welcomed the end to Oregon’s non-unanimous jury verdict rule. Its Appellate Division reviewed more than 750 direct appeal cases and identified hundreds of convictions requiring reversal. The Oregon appellate courts have since reversed these convictions and sent over 470 of these cases back for new trials.

“The Ramos decision, however, left many questions unanswered, including whether the new procedural rule requiring unanimity applies to older cases where final judgments of conviction had already been entered when Ramos was decided…

“In July 2021, Oregon DOJ asked the Court of Appeals to certify three cases to the Oregon Supreme Court concerning the Ramos retroactivity issue. The Supreme Court agreed to hear them on an expedited basis to provide a definitive ruling whether the unanimous jury rule would apply retroactively to state post-conviction cases. The result is the Court’s ruling … in Watkins.”


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