Hours after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it wouldn’t overturn old non-unanimous jury verdicts in Oregon and Louisiana, state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum asked lawmakers to hold hearings and pass legislation that would address hundreds of old convictions now considered unconstitutional.
“There are hundreds of adults in custody in Oregon prisons who may have been convicted on at least one count by a non-unanimous jury,” Rosenblum said in a statement Monday evening. “I am calling on the legislature to, as soon as possible, convene an informational hearing to discuss how the legislature can assist in the expeditious resolution of these cases.”
Top Democrats in the Legislature had not heard of calls for legislative action as of Tuesday morning, staff said. Some lawmakers, however, said they’re open to discussing the ruling and its effects on Oregon’s criminal justice system.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Ramos v. Louisiana that non-unanimous jury verdicts are unconstitutional, ending the practice of 10-2 and 11-1 convictions by juries in Oregon. Louisiana, the only other state with still allowing non-unanimous juries until recently, voted in 2018 to end the Jim Crow era practice.
On Monday, the court handed down another ruling on a similar case, Edwards v. Vannoy, which involved a Louisiana man sentenced to life in prison by a non-unanimous jury. In a 6-3 ruling lead by the court’s conservatives, the justices said their ruling in the Ramos case does not apply retroactively.
At the same time, the justices left it up to the states to decide if they want to apply their ruling to old cases.
“States remain free, if they choose, to retroactively apply the jury-unanimity rule as a matter of state law in state post-conviction proceedings,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh noted in his majority opinion.
There are roughly 300 people in Oregon who could be affected by this week’s ruling. Data compiled by the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic at Lewis and Clark Law School also shows Black and Latino Oregonians are overrepresented in that group.
In outlining her request to lawmakers, Rosenblum said a ruling from the Oregon Supreme Court on whether to vacate old non-unanimous jury convictions and possibly retry the cases, could take one to two years.
“On the other hand, the issue of retroactivity is a matter of both policy and law and could — and should — be addressed much sooner and expeditiously,” Rosenblum said in a statement. “The legislature could, reasonably quickly, pass a law focused exclusively on retroactivity.”
Rosenblum, who personally said she opposes non-unanimous juries, has come under increased pressure for joining Louisiana, twice, in arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court. First, in Ramos, arguing non-unanimous juries should be considered constitutional. And again in Edwards, arguing the Supreme Court’s ruling should not be retroactive. Rosenblum has said her job is to defend state law.
Some lawmakers said they’re open to the idea of a hearing on the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“The attorney general should be led by her values and forge a very clear path on the issue,” said Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Clackamas, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. “I stand ready to help however I can, but I think the ball is in her court.”
Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee said the attorney general’s office reached out late Monday about a hearing, which Prozanski said he supports.
“My belief at this point is that we need more information. Clearly, we are in session, we are in a position to potentially take some action now,” Prozanski said. “I don’t want to rush without all the necessary information in front of us. The briefing is going to be imperative.”
The hearing has not been scheduled yet, he said.
OPB’s Dirk VanderHart contributed reporting.