Brief Fact Summary. Three defendants were convicted in Oregon by less-than-unanimous juries, per Oregon law. The appealed on Sixth Amendment grounds.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. “The Sixth Amendment guarantee of a jury trial, made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, does not require the jury’s vote to be unanimous,” and “jury unanimity is not mandated by the Fourteenth Amendment requirements that racial minorities not be systematically excluded from the jury-selection process.”
Issue. “[W]hether the Sixth Amendment’s right to trial by jury requires . . . unanimity.”
Held. No. The requirement of unanimity is based in custom, rather than in the Constitution of the United States. In contemporary society, “the essential feature of a jury . . . lies in the interposition between the accused and his accuser of the commonsense judgment in a group of laymen”, able to deliberate on the defendant’s guilt, “free from outside attempts at intimidation.” The court saw “no difference between juries required to act un-animously” and those of majority rule. Further, unanimity does not satisfy reasonable doubt because, when this burden of proof was formulated, “the Court purported to draw no support from the Sixth Amendment.” As to the argument that the Fourteenth Amendment requirement that a jury “reflect a cross section of the community” is furthered by unanimity, the court held that not “every distinct voice in the community has a right to be represented on every jury and a right to prevent conviction of a defendant in every case,” and that it would not as
sume that “minority groups [on a jury] will not adequately represent the viewpoint of those groups simply because they might be outvoted in the final result.”
Under both state and federal jurisprudence, a criminal conviction by a less than unanimous jury does not violate a defendant's right to trial by jury specified by the Sixth Amendment and made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment.View Full Point of Law
*Justice Douglas, joined by J. Brennan and J. Marshall, held that this decision was a radical departure from the legal tradition of the unanimous jury; that it was inconsistent with previous rulings that civil jury trials under the Seventh Amendment must be unanimous; that all federal trials require unanimity; and that a minority opinion will not be properly weighed in such a jury.
*J. Brennan, joined by J. Marshall, reiterated the importance of the minority opinion in jury deliberations.
*J. Marshall, joined by J. Brennan, stating that differing opinion of a juror goes to the heart of the reasonable doubt standard, and that, despite a potential failure of the state to meet its burden, a defendant may be convicted.
Concurrence. Note: * indicates that the concurring opinion from previous ruling, Johnson, supra, applied to this ruling.
*J. Blackmun concurs because he does not believe that the “split-verdict” system is unconstitutional. But he nonetheless viewed it as unwise.
*Justice Powell concluded that not all aspects of the Sixth Amendment were incorporated by the Fourteenth Amendment, and that unanimity is not required to satisfy Due Process clause. Further, the Oregon rule does not violate the due process requirement of a cross-section of the population.
Discussion. “As to juries, whether they be unanimous in conviction or a majority rule, “the interest of the defendant in having the judgment of his peers interposed between himself and the officers of the State who prosecute and judge him is equally well served.”