Skip to Content

U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to Non-Unanimous Jury Systems

July 4, 2019 Uncategorized

Calvin Duncan was convicted of murder in Louisiana. While in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, his job was to review the legal cases of other inmates, even though he didn’t have a legal background and didn’t graduate high school.  He held this job for 23 years and was paid 20 cents an hour.

As he worked on his fellow inmates cases, one particular legal issue kept popping up – that of the ability to be convicted in Louisiana by a non-unanimous jury. In general, a criminal defendant can only be convicted if the entire jury votes for a guilty verdict. In Louisiana, a defendant can be convicted with a guilty vote by only ten of twelve jurors in felony cases. The only other state that allows non-unanimous jury convictions is Oregon.

After extensive research, Duncan found the reason why this law was put into place in the late 19th century. In 1898, the Supreme Court ruled that black citizens could no longer be excluded from juries. This lead to the state constitution changing to allow convictions with only 9 out of 12 jurors voting guilty. In 1973 the law was changed to 10 out of 12 jurors. Duncan explains the non-unanimous jury verdict was put into place in order to cancel out the black juror vote. Duncan compares this to a Jim Crow-era law.

Duncan has and is continually challenging Louisiana’s Non-Unanimous Jury law. Due to his continued persistence the Supreme Court of Louisiana will hear case, Ramos v. Louisiana on October 7th 2019. In the United States Oregon and Louisiana are the only two states that allow a criminal conviction of 10 to 2. In 2018 a law was passed that requires an unanimous verdict to convict a defendant of a crime. However, this only applies to cases that have been decided after 2018.

Thanks to the innocence project Duncan was released in 2011. He has always maintained his innocence. Duncan has assisted other inmates with their criminal cases. Due to his efforts several inmates have been released after receiving new trials. Duncan has also made an impact on the Louisiana legal community. Katherine Mattes, a law Professor at Tulane University, had a legal question regarding convicts challenging their criminal cases. After asking several colleagues she was directed to Duncan. Duncan knew the answer immediately and even cited case law to support his statement. Since his release Duncan has been working on obtaining his bachelor’s degree at Tulane University. From there he plans to go to Law school.

ArborYpsi Law Takeaways

The jury trial system in Louisiana and Oregon is unconstitutional and unfair. These laws were put into place in order to silence minorities on juries. It is unethical and unmoral for these laws to remain in effect. It is people like Calvin Duncan, that research and constantly question these Jim-Crow-like laws, that will make a difference in the criminal justice system.

Call us

Call Sam Bernstein at 734-883-9584 or e-mail at

Sam Bernstein is a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Washtenaw County.

ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave. Ann Arbor, MI 48108.

Read More Legal News Articles

ArborYpsi Law Focuses on Criminal Defense

Sam Bernstein is a criminal defense lawyer in Washtenaw County. He has represented clients in Oakland, Wayne, Livingston, Lenawee and Jackson County. He has practiced criminal defense in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Plymouth, Westland, Novi, Howell, Wyandotte, Taylor, Detroit, Livonia, Warren, Detroit, and Jackson among other Metro-Detroit cities.

If criminal charges have been brought against you call ArborYpsi Law. Attorney Sam Bernstein specializes in criminal cases. ArborYpsi law represents clients charged with drinking and driving, shop lifting, drug charges, sex crimes, sexual assault, rape, child abuse, child endangerment, DUI’s, DWI’s, traffic tickets, retail fraud, and assault and battery.