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Bill to put non-unanimous juries before voters fails

Despite broad support, a measure that would put Oregon's controversial jury system before voters died in the Oregon Senate.

Posted: Jul 2, 2019 12:03 PM
Updated: Jul 2, 2019 12:13 PM

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Despite broad support, a measure that would put Oregon's controversial jury system before voters died in the Oregon Senate during the final days of the 2019 legislative session.

Oregon is the only state in the country that allows for convictions via non-unanimous juries in criminal felony cases.

House Joint Resolution 10 would have put before voters on the November 2020 ballot a proposed change to the Oregon Constitution. If passed, it would have mandated that criminal jury verdicts be unanimous.

Under current Oregon law, only 10 of 12 jurors need to agree to convict someone of a criminal felony. The exception is for murder, which requires unanimity.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that with the measure dead, the state's legal community turns to the U.S. Supreme Court, who will take up non-unanimous juries during its next term.

On June 20, the Oregon House passed HJR10 almost unanimously, with 56 of the body's 60 members voting in favor of putting the measure before voters. But on Saturday in the Senate, the bill was referred to the rules committee where it stayed until the Legislature adjourned on Sunday.

Williamson said there will still be time during next year's short session to put the issue on the 2020 ballot if lawmakers choose.


READ: Appeals court won't review Oregon's non-unanimous jury law


HJR10 not only had bipartisan support from lawmakers but also across the legal community. The Oregon District Attorneys Association testified during the session in support of the measure. They were joined by advocates who have worked for years to do away with the unique system.

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up a case out of Louisiana during its next term that could address directly whether non-unanimous juries are constitutional. The Court has ruled in the past that they are.

"Some felt that we should let the case on the issue pending before the United States Supreme Court, Ramos v. Louisiana, play out before advancing a constitutional amendment to voters," House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, said in a statement Monday. "This issue remains a top priority for me, and I will continue to fight to ensure that non-unanimous juries become a relic of Oregon's past."

Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association's Legislative Director Maria Sophia said Monday the high court's decision to take up the case, Ramos v. Louisiana, had changed the timeline for some lawmakers. While the Supreme Court hasn't yet set a date for arguments, there's a chance it could rule by early spring, before the 2020 general election when the question would go before voters.

"I'm disappointed the Legislature did not pass the bill this session because I think it is imperative that Oregon change its constitution," Sophia said.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 392197

Reported Deaths: 5186
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah60432839
Washington42082398
Marion39986507
Clackamas32861382
Lane30179358
Jackson24956361
Deschutes23639185
Umatilla15135182
Linn14704179
Douglas13438292
Josephine10201246
Yamhill9787143
Klamath9072147
Polk8248102
Benton611138
Malheur592790
Coos5693107
Columbia433356
Jefferson420866
Lincoln363852
Union339255
Crook336356
Wasco317046
Clatsop262735
Baker220833
Tillamook217045
Hood River214537
Morrow197825
Curry192439
Harney119933
Grant108515
Lake105616
Wallowa76013
Sherman1913
Gilliam1854
Wheeler1141
Unassigned00

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Los Angeles152858627184
San Diego4074794340
Riverside3880835358
San Bernardino3748555967
Orange3346265736
Sacramento1684922447
Kern1578751804
Fresno1568972259
Santa Clara1522681929
Alameda1252361507
San Joaquin1076041834
Ventura1040841191
Contra Costa1038691046
Stanislaus915481417
Tulare861371099
San Francisco56931672
San Mateo56354629
Monterey52521626
Solano47693358
Santa Barbara47345553
Merced45086668
Sonoma43207412
Placer42204470
Imperial38516773
Kings35221362
San Luis Obispo31511360
Madera26233311
Shasta26113458
Butte25476318
Santa Cruz22268224
Yolo21590260
Marin18495249
El Dorado18325166
Sutter14577186
Napa13424105
Yuba1076389
Tehama10282130
Humboldt10183119
Nevada10029105
Mendocino857799
Lassen797656
San Benito782979
Tuolumne774691
Lake7046110
Amador578366
Siskiyou475855
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Calaveras442288
Del Norte376942
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Inyo256746
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Mono18924
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