Civil and Human Rights

Court denies cert in Sixth Amendment case on jury unanimity

Among other orders issued this morning, the Supreme Court announced it has unfortunately denied certiorari in Miller v. Louisiana, an case concerning the importance of jury unanimity—a right that the Founders  understood to be an essential bulwark of liberty protected by the Sixth Amendment. From CAC’s case page:

On September 4th, 2012, CAC filed an amicus curiae brief in the Supreme Court in support of the Petition for a Writ of Certiorari in Miller v. Louisiana.

In 2003, petitioner Corey Miller was convicted of murder in the second degree by a 10-2 jury vote. Louisiana is one of just two states that permit conviction by a non-unanimous jury. Miller, a recording artist, had been found guilty of the shooting death of a 16-year-old fan during an altercation outside a Baton Rouge nightclub.

CAC’s brief urges the Supreme Court to reaffirm that the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury requires that a criminal conviction be based on a unanimous jury verdict, and that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to recognize that right. The brief cites constitutional text and history on both points. Founders from John Adams to James Madison understood jury unanimity to be a bulwark of liberty, as essential to the jury trial right as the right to a jury of one’s neighbors and peers. The framers of the Fourteenth Amendment, which applied the guarantees of the Bill of Rights to the states, specifically mentioned the right to a jury trial as one of the fundamental rights newly protected against state infringement.

CAC emphasizes that the Court has already recognized the flaws of the current two-track system, which has required unanimity from federal juries but permitted states to obtain non-unanimous convictions. In 2010’s Second Amendment case, McDonald v. City of Chicago, the Court reaffirmed that the guarantees of the Bill of Rights bind the states and the federal government equally—there is no “watered-down” version of these rights that applies only in the states.  Importantly, the Court also acknowledged that Apodaca v. Oregon, the deeply fractured ruling that led to the current two-track jury unanimity system, was an outlier case based on “an unusual division among the Justices.” CAC filed a brief in McDonald on behalf of prominent constitutional scholars from across the ideological spectrum, arguing that the individual right to bear arms was “incorporated” against state action by the Fourteenth Amendment, and supporting the robust incorporation of the Bill of Rights against the states.

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