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Jury Deliberations

Oregon is one of two states that does not require unanimous juries for all criminal offenses. Should it stay that way?

The Sixth Amendment guarantees American citizens the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury. But just how to best ensure the neutrality and efficiency of that jury is a complex question that involves everything from the selection of jurors to their final voting process.Oregon is currently one of only two states that allow non-unanimous juries to convict someone of a crime. In all other states except Louisiana, if even one juror dissents from his peers decision, the jury is hung and a mistrial is declared. But in Oregon only ten jurors are required to convict people accused of non-capital offenses.This Oregon anomaly dates back to 1934 when a ballot initiative changed the unanimous system. Back then, when gangster intimidation of juries was a very real threat, the argument was that while one juror could perhaps be swayed to change his vote, it was unlikely that an entire jury could be persuaded by outside parties. Oregon?s experiment was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Apodaca v. Oregon more than twenty-five years ago.But the Oregon Office of Public Defense Services is asking the Supreme Court to reconsider. This week lawyers will be filing a petition with the Oregon Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court in two cases, challenging Oregon?s non-unanimous system. They say that a unanimous verdict is needed in order to convict beyond a reasonable doubt ? and include all jurors? voices.A spokesman for the Multnomah County District Attorney?s office compares the likelihood of Oregon?s jury law changing to the chance a snowball has of surviving in a very warm place. He says there is broad political support for Oregon?s custom. What do you think? Have you served on a jury? Have you been convicted or acquitted by ten out of twelve people? What does your experience tell you about whether non-capital jury verdicts should be unanimous or not?

Photo credit: WallyG / Flickr / Creative Commons

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