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The United States Law Week

Unanimous Juries Could Be Next After Ginsburg’s Big Fines Ruling

Feb. 20, 2019, 6:07 PM

The federal rule requiring unanimous jury verdicts in criminal trials could soon apply to the states, too, if the U.S. Supreme Court carries momentum from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s opinion today.

Today’s ruling involved Indiana state law enforcement’s seizure of Tyson Timbs’ $42,000 Land Rover in connection with what he characterized as a minor drug prosecution.

Ginsburg wrote for the unanimous court that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on excessive fines applies—or is “incorporated"—to the states, making it one less outlier right that applies in federal but not state proceedings. She sent the case back to the state court to apply the new ruling.

A remaining outlier is the right to unanimous jury verdicts in criminal cases, Ginsburg noted in her opinion in Timbs v. Indiana. She also raised the jury issue during the Nov. 28 oral argument.

Louisiana murder convict Evangelisto Ramos hopes to convince the high court to take up his appeal challenging his non-unanimous 2016 state court conviction. Just ten of his twelve jurors voted to convict him. He’s serving a life sentence.

Notably, Louisiana voted last November to abolish non-unanimous verdicts, leaving Oregon as the only state in the country that allows them going forward.

But the Louisiana law doesn’t apply retroactively. So those like Ramos already convicted under the split-verdict regime, as well as those tried for crimes committed before the law took effect this year, can still be locked up with less than a full complement of jurors.

The justices will consider his petition at their private conference on Friday. Likely the soonest we’ll hear whether the court takes up his case or rejects it will be Monday morning.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jordan S. Rubin in Washington at jrubin@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com; Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com