In Apodaca v. Oregon, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the question of whether the Sixth Amendment’s right to a jury trial required a unanimous verdict. Robert Apodaca, Henry Morgan Cooper Jr., and James Arnold Madden were convicted of committing felonies by three separate Oregon juries, all of which returned less than unanimous verdicts. In a six-to-three decision, the Court denied that their convictions violated the Sixth Amendment and rejected the argument that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment made the constitutional right to a jury trial applicable to the states. Specifically, it denied that the unanimity rule was essential to the function of a jury trial or necessary to support a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Court also rejected the contention that the unanimity rule was mandated by the Fourteenth Amendment’s requirement that juries reflect a cross section of the community. The Court reasoned that although the Constitution forbade the systematic exclusion of specific groups from juries, defendants may not challenge the makeup of the jury simply because no member of their race is on it. The Court further rejected the idea that minority groups serving on juries would be denied the opportunity to express their opinions because it found no proof that a majority would ignore the evidence and make a decision solely on the basis of prejudice. The Court recognized that unanimous juries were more likely to result in hung juries, but nevertheless felt that the interest of the defendant would be fairly served under both situations.
RANDA CAROLYN ISSA
See also Due Process; Jury Trial; Jury Trial Right; Jury Trials and Race