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Appeals Court won't review Oregon's non-unanimous jury law

The Oregon Court of Appeals has upheld the state's unusual nonunanimous jury law when it declined to reverse a Portland judge's decision not to grant a new trial to an African American man convicted in a split jury verdict.

Posted: Apr 10, 2019 4:35 PM
Updated: Apr 10, 2019 4:37 PM

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Court of Appeals has upheld the state's unusual nonunanimous jury law when it declined to reverse a Portland judge's decision not to grant a new trial to an African American man convicted in a split jury verdict.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports that while the Appeals Court said Olan Jermaine Williams raised "serious concerns" about his 10-2 conviction in 2016, it ruled Wednesday it couldn't review the case.

Williams was found guilty in Multnomah County Circuit Court of sodomizing an unconscious man whom he had met at a summer barbecue and was sentenced to 8 1/3 years in prison.

Afterward, the lone black juror assigned to Williams' trial spoke out publicly, claiming she had voted not guilty and felt that the majority of the jury disregarded her view.

An attorney for Williams filed for a new trial based on the argument that all people have implicit biases, especially against people of a different race.

For decades, Oregon juries - and those in only one other state, Louisiana - have been permitted to convict most felony defendants with a 10-2 vote. A petition before the Supreme Court claims the statute deprives some defendants of equal protection under the law. [Note: Lousiana voters have since passed an amendment to end non-unanimous rulings for felony convictions]

Judge Bronson James didn't grant Williams a new trial, writing that his defense hadn't presented any evidence that implicit racial bias motivated this particular jury.

But James in his ruling all but said that an effort to squelch nonwhite voices was part of the motivation for creating Oregon's nonunanimous jury system, which voters added to the state's constitution in 1934.

In his appeal, Williams said Oregon's jury law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment. The Court of Appeals found that this argument didn't fit within the parameters of the case before them.

Critics have claimed that non-unanimous juries are deeply flawed and punitive toward nonwhite defendants.

Oregon lawmakers this session are working on a bill that would refer the issue of nonunanimous juries to voters.

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