Criminal Justice

Ramos v. Louisiana

In Ramos v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court considered whether the Fourteenth Amendment fully incorporates the Sixth Amendment guarantee of a unanimous jury verdict in criminal cases.

Case Summary

In 2015, petitioner Evangelisto Ramos was indicted in Louisiana state court for second-degree murder. Ramos maintained his innocence and demanded a jury trial. After deliberating, ten of the twelve jurors found him guilty, and under a provision of Louisiana’s constitution allowing for non-unanimous jury verdicts, that was enough to convict Ramos. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Ramos appealed his conviction, arguing that the U.S. Constitution requires jury unanimity to convict. The Louisiana Court of Appeal, relying on a 1972 Supreme Court decision called Apodaca v. Oregon, rejected Ramos’s claim that Louisiana’s non-unanimity rule is unconstitutional, and when Ramos appealed that decision to the Louisiana Supreme Court, it denied review. Ramos then filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted review in March 2019.

CAC filed an amici curiae brief on behalf of law professors and social scientists in support of petitioner. Our brief made three main points. First, using empirical evidence, we explained that jury unanimity is essential to the right to a fair trial guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. Research has demonstrated that a unanimous jury requirement strengthens deliberations, ensures more accurate outcomes, fosters greater consideration of minority viewpoints, and boosts confidence in verdicts and the justice system. Second, we argued that the Framers understood that jury unanimity is a critical component of the right to trial by jury in criminal cases. Finally, we argued that the Supreme Court should overturn its deeply divided decision in Apodaca v. Oregon, which concluded that the Sixth Amendment requires jury unanimity in federal criminal trials but not in state criminal trials. We argued that modern empirical evidence and subsequent case law have undermined Apodaca’s reasoning and conclusions.

The Court held that “the Sixth Amendment’s unanimity requirement applies to state and federal criminal trials equally.” The Court recognized that, as shown in our brief, unanimity has historically been an essential element of the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial trial by jury in criminal cases. The decision also highlighted the empirical benefits of requiring unanimous jury verdicts, as discussed in our brief. The Court’s decision was a major victory for protecting the rights of criminal defendants.

Case Timeline

  • June 18, 2019

    CAC files amicus brief

    U.S. Sup. Ct. Amicus Brief
  • October 7, 2019

    The Supreme Court hears oral arguments

  • April 20, 2020

    The Supreme Court issues its decision

More from Criminal Justice

Criminal Justice
July 29, 2020

Toward a Fuller Constitutional Story: Race, Policing, & Equality

Host: Constitutional Accountability Center
Participants: Elizabeth B. Wydra, David H. Gans, Roy Austin (Moderator), Professor Deborah Archer, Chiraag Bains
Criminal Justice
June 25, 2020

Prison Guards Who Locked Naked Inmate in Cell Filled With ‘Massive Amounts’ of Feces Got Qualified Immunity

Reason
A group of prison guards who forced an inmate to live in two cells infested...
By: Brianne J. Gorod, By Billy Binion
Criminal Justice
June 24, 2020

#PurpleChairChat Episode 5: Race, Policing, and the Constitution

CAC’s President Elizabeth Wydra, Civil Rights Director David H. Gans, and Director of Policy Kristine...
By: Elizabeth B. Wydra, Kristine A. Kippins, David H. Gans
Criminal Justice
June 9, 2020

Democrats push bigger role for courts to curb police misconduct

Roll Call
A House bill released Monday to address police misconduct includes provisions that would allow more...
By: David H. Gans, Todd Ruger
Criminal Justice
June 11, 2020

Supreme Court’s deference to police for ‘reasonable’ conduct faces scrutiny in wake of brutality cases

USA Today
WASHINGTON – A high-speed police chase in 2001 ended when Georgia police deputy Timothy Scott bumped the rear...
By: David H. Gans, Richard Wolf
Criminal Justice
June 3, 2020

OP-ED: The Supreme Court Enabled Horrific Police Violence by Ignoring Constitutional History

Slate
The killing of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police officers and the waves of police violence we...
By: David H. Gans