It’s time for Oregon to make it unanimous
Last month, Louisiana voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to get rid of non-unanimous jury verdicts, ending an outdated state law that was set up in the 1880s as a way to convict African Americans easier under Jim Crow-Era laws.
Once the new law takes effect on Jan. 1, Oregon will be the only state left without a unanimous jury requirement.
Just like Louisiana has updated its state law to fall in line with the rest of the country, it’s time for Oregon to follow suit. And state lawmakers there say they will try next year to make that happen.
State Rep. Jennifer Williamson, a Portland-based Democrat and House Majority Leader, told <em>The Oregonian</em> that there are plans to submit two measures in 2019 that would overturn the existing non-unanimous jury law. Like Louisiana, Oregon allows for 10 out of 12 jurors to agree on a felony conviction, except for murder.
The proposal would also ask Oregon voters to choose whether to approve a constitutional amendment.
Now that Oregon is the only state left without a unanimous jury law, Williamson said it has created a "sense of urgency" that wasn’t there just a couple of years earlier.
She added that having a non-unanimous jury law in place is "one of the most racist parts of our criminal justice system." Oregon voters approved the non-unanimous jury law in 1934 after a murder trial that involved a Jewish suspect.
The issue was a hot topic during Louisiana’s legislative session earlier this year. Amid talk of the law’s racist ties, lawmakers in the House and Senate wasted little time approving it and sending it before voters in November.
It appears that Oregon is eyeing to change the law and require unanimous juries. State lawmakers took notice after an article in the <em>Oregon Law Review</em> called for such a change to remove what is considered a blemish to the state.
However, not everyone in the state is on board with changing the jury law. While some district attorneys have voiced support in changing the law, others said non-unanimous jury verdicts result in fewer hung juries and can help victims of crime.
Before Louisiana voters approved the change, Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier said there isn’t enough data to support the statement that unanimous jury verdicts are more reliable than 10 out of 12 jurors agreeing. He also mentioned finding nine out of 12 cases over the last 20 to 30 years that were reversed because of insufficient evidence.
DeRosier said in October that his office "can live with unanimous juries," but acknowledged it will be more difficult.
It seems more likely that Oregon state lawmakers will support unanimous jury verdicts, especially with Democrats holding majorities in the House and Senate. Williams said she’s optimistic voters will do the same, but that remains to be seen.
Louisiana’s lawmakers and voters have made their position clear on requiring all jurors to reach a unanimous verdict. Now the attention turns to Oregon.