SCOTUS Hears Arguments on Whether Its Unanimous Jury Ruling Applies Retroactively

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SCOTUS Hears Arguments on Whether Its Unanimous Jury Ruling Applies Retroactively

In April, the Supreme Court ruled in Ramos v. Louisiana that the Sixth Amendment establishes a right to a unanimous jury that applies in both federal and state courts. Last week in Edwards v. Vannoy, the justices heard argument on whether inmates whose convictions became final before the Edwards decision can now take advantage of it. Although only two states, Louisiana and Oregon, have allowed non-unanimous jury verdicts in recent years, those states say that a ruling for the inmates could "seriously strain" their systems by reopening many years' worth of convictions.  A synopsis of the arguments and the reactions of several justices is located here.

Ex-Trial Judge’s Record of Ruling on Batson Challenges Comes Back to Haunt Her DA Campaign

When Keva Landrum was an Orleans Parish district court judge in 2012, she allowed the DA’s office to strike 11 jurors—all Black—in the murder trial against Jabari Williams.  Williams’s conviction was ultimately reversed by SCOTUS because of Judge Landrum’s failure to enforce the Batson doctrine.  Indeed, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her concurring opinion in Williams v. Louisiana criticized Landrum for rejecting the defense’s Batson challenges and for providing the rationale for the prosecutor’s peremptory strikes, rather than letting the prosecutor do so.  Landrum’s record in that case is now being used by her competitor in the DA election.

NCSC Tracks Jury Trial Restrictions Across the Country

In prior issues of the Bulletin, we highlighted news from the Pandemic Rapid Response Team (RRT), a group of chief justices and state court administrators established in March 2020 to help state courts move forward during the pandemic and beyond.  One work product of the RRT is a rolling account of what state courts are doing with respect to scheduling or canceling jury trials. Here is a recent list of current end dates for suspensions of jury trials.  If you have supplemental information about this topic, please forward it to the Jur-E Bulletin editor.

New MexicoJanuary
U.S. Virgin IslandsJanuary
ConnecticutUntil further notice
DelawareUntil further notice
District of ColumbiaUntil further notice
MarylandUntil further notice
New JerseyUntil further notice
New YorkUntil further notice
UtahUntil further notice
VermontUntil further notice
WyomingUntil further notice

Mississippi Supreme Court Enforces Rule Against Compromise Damages Verdicts

In a tractor-motorcycle collision case captioned Richards v. Wilson et al., the motorcycle-riding plaintiffs used an oncoming traffic lane to pass a tractor filled with hay.  Plaintiffs were injured when they were bumped off the road by the tractor making a left-hand turn.  The defendants claimed the plaintiffs were contributorily negligent.  Neither party requested nor did the trial judge give a contributory negligence instruction to the jury.  Consequently, the jury awarded damages only to the plaintiffs by way of a multipart verdict form that separated damage claims into various parts, for example, past compensatory damages, past pain and suffering, future pain and suffering, etc.  The awards indicated on the verdict form were oddly inconsistent with zero sums for some items and fulsome amounts for other damage categories.  The judge vacated the awards and granted a new trial to defendants after concluding the jury was confused and rendered an unlawful compromise verdict, that is, the jurors could not agree on liability, so they entered a low award of damages.  In a second trial, the jury found for the defendants.  From an appeal by the plaintiffs, the state supreme court affirmed the lower court’s ordering of a new trial.  The supreme court’s application of Mississippi and federal circuit case law condemning compromise verdicts is instructive.


In last week’s issue of the Bulletin, we reported about a case in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina where a judge declared a mistrial due to more than one juror reporting symptoms resembling COVID-19 infection.  Whereas we stated one of the jurors was infected with the coronavirus, in fact the article in the Charlotte Observer reported that the juror only suffered virus-like symptoms.  In addition, Jessica Davis, the public information officer for that court, sent us an email regarding an inaccurate headline in the Charlotte Observer article.  She informed us the “trial in Mecklenburg County was not the first or only jury trial to have taken place in the State of North Carolina since March.”  We thank Ms. Davis for that input.