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Civil Rights Attorney Calls On SCOTUS To Apply Unanimous Jury Rule Retroactively To All Convictions That Violate Sixth Amendment

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Published on: July 25, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Fighting to ensure that no one is imprisoned in violation of their constitutional rights, The Rutherford Institute is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to allow persons convicted by non-unanimous juries to challenge those convictions under the Court’s recent ruling that the Sixth Amendment requires all jurors vote to convict a criminal defendant. In an amicus curiae brief filed with the Supreme Court in Edwards v. Vannoy, the Institute has joined a coalition of civil liberties organizations in asking that the Court’s ruling in Ramos v. Louisiana striking down state laws allowing non-unanimous convictions be applied retroactively to persons whose convictions became final before the Ramos ruling. The Rutherford Institute and its coalition partners argue that jury unanimity is a fundamental constitutional right, and no person should be imprisoned without the assurances of guilt provided by a unanimous jury verdict.

“Justice should always be available to those wrongly convicted,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that the right to a unanimous jury verdict is firmly rooted in America’s history and fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty. This fundamental right must apply to all imprisoned persons, regardless of when they were convicted.”

In 2006, Thedrick Edwards, a 19-year old black man, became a suspect in a series of crimes that occurred in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Police searched Edward’s residence, but found nothing connecting him with the crimes.  Upon learning of the search, Edwards surrendered to police, who interrogated him numerous times over several days.  Edwards consistently told police he was not involved in the crimes.  Police then chained Edwards to a wall and, according to Edwards, used force to coerce him into waiving his right to counsel and confessing.  He was charged with multiple counts of robbery and rape. In addition to denying Edwards’ motion to suppress his confession, the trial court allowed the prosecution to use its challenges to potential jurors against blacks, so that only one black woman was on Edwards’ jury.  At trial, the prosecution produced no physical evidence connecting Edwards to the crimes, and only one of five eyewitnesses identified Edwards.  He was convicted of all charges, even though the black juror voted to acquit on each charge.  At that time, all states except Louisiana and Oregon required jury verdicts supporting criminal convictions be unanimous. His final appeal in the state courts was denied in 2011.  Edwards then filed a federal habeas corpus petition raising a Sixth Amendment challenge to the non-unanimous verdicts, but the federal courts denied the petition.  Edwards then petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case, and while that petition was pending, the Court issued its ruling in Ramos v. Louisiana that a “trial by an impartial jury” guaranteed by the constitution includes the requirement that a jury reach a unanimous verdict in order to convict.  Edwards argued that the court should apply the ruling in Ramos to his case even though Ramos was issued after his conviction became final.  In their amicus brief, The Rutherford Institute and its coalition partners argue Ramos should apply to Edwards’ case because the right to a unanimous jury is not new, has been recognized for more than a century and is a watershed rule of criminal procedure entitled to retroactive application.

The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated and educates the public on a wide spectrum of issues affecting their freedoms.

Case History

April 20, 2020 • U.S. Supreme Court Holds States Accountable to Abiding by Sixth Amendment Standard of a Unanimous Jury Verdict in Criminal Cases

The amicus brief of The Rutherford Institute, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Conservative Union Foundation, Cato Institute and R Street Institute in Edwards v. Vannoy

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