The Oregon Supreme Court is hearing a series of cases Tuesday that deal with nonunanimous juries, as the state grapples to determine the scope of the cases affected by a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling this spring that declared nonunanimous juries unconstitutional.
Five lead cases are before the Oregon Supreme Court. Each deals with a different set of issues surrounding nonunanimous jury verdicts and represent a number of underlying cases.
For example, one case looks at whether just the use of nonunanimous jury instructions violated the Constitution. Another case examines whether the use of nonunanimous juries undermined public confidence to the point all verdicts that were a product of that system should be reversed.
That could result in thousands of cases being overturned.
Oregon was the last state in the country to allow 10-2 or 11-1 split juries to convict defendants in felony criminal cases. Murder cases were the only exception under the nonunanimous system and still required all 12 jurors to agree.
In 1934, voters passed an amendment to the Oregon Constitution that implemented the nonunanimous jury system. It was near the height of the Ku Klux Klan’s power in the state and at a time when anti-immigrant sentiment was high. The system was discriminatory and racist because it denied some defendants of color a jury of their peers, while also silencing the perspectives of jurors of color.
In April, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the process unconstitutional.
Verdicts in more than 250 cases have already been tossed out. Local district attorneys are now weighing whether to try those cases again.