Whether the Supreme Court’s decision in Ramos v. Louisiana, holding that the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a unanimous jury verdict, applies retroactively to cases on federal collateral review.

In Ramos v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court in 2020 ruled that criminal jury verdicts must be unanimous.  Edwards v. Vannoy concerns the retroactive effect of that decision; namely, how many prisoners now serving sentences for convictions handed down by nonunanimous juries can challenge those convictions.  The ACLU and the ACLU Foundation of Louisiana were joined by organizations from across the ideological spectrum—the American Conservative Union Foundation, the Cato Institute, R Street Institute, and the Rutherford Institute—in filing an amicus brief in the Supreme Court arguing that the Sixth Amendment right to a unanimous jury verdict should apply to all cases on collateral review, that is, after their convictions have been affirmed on direct appeal.

The Court has ruled that most new constitutional rules generally do not apply to cases on collateral review.  But we argue that this was not a new rule because the Sixth Amendment has always required unanimity in jury verdicts.

If the Court treats the rule as “new,” we argue that it should be applied retroactively because it is a so-called “watershed rule” of criminal procedure, namely one that implicates the fundamental accuracy and fairness of the criminal proceeding.  The unanimity requirement is a core feature of the jury-trial right, with the purpose and effect of ensuring accurate verdicts.

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