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Non-unanimous Jury Verdicts: the Ramos and Watkins Decisions

     For decades, Oregon allowed juries to convict people of felony crimes based on non-unanimous jury verdicts (for example 10 jurors agree to convict while 2 jurors vote to acquit). In 2020 the United States Supreme Court took up the constitutionality of non-unanimous jury verdicts in Ramos v. Louisiana, 590 US __, 140 S Ct 1390, 206 L Ed 2d 583 (2020). The Court held that the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution required unanimous verdicts. This means that non-unanimous jury verdicts in felony cases are unconstitutional. That ruling settled the question for any case that was still actively before the court, either at trial or on appeal, but left the question of what happened to cases which had already been fully resolved. 

     On December 30, 2022, in Watkins v. Ackley, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the Ramos ruling applies retroactively (going backwards) under state law. This means that anyone who had a non-unanimous jury conviction is entitled to a new trial.  In order to get a new trial, someone needs to file postconviction relief (PCR) claim. 

Someone may qualify for postconviction relief (PCR) under the Ramos/Watkins cases if: 

  • They have been convicted of a felony in Oregon
  • ​The conviction was the result of jury trial 
  • Not all the jurors agreed on the outcome of that conviction ​

There is currently no limit on how long ago the conviction was. In deciding Watkins, the court recognized that its decision would require a reexamination of prior judgments that became final years or even decades ago. There is, however, a time limit for bring PCR claims arising from Watkins. The current statute of limitations is two years from the Watkins decision, although that may be shortened through legislation. 

​PCR is the way to challenge final judgments. More information on PCR and forms to apply for relief can be found below. Along with the form to apply for relief there is a form to request appointed counsel for those who are financially eligible. 

  • Forms are available here

​Watkins applies to cases which have one or more convictions that you can prove were based on a non-unanimous jury verdict. If it is not clear whether it is a non-unanimous conviction, trial transcripts, verdict forms and/or contact with the trial defense attorney for information may be needed.​

​Contact with the PCR attorney about Watkins impact is the best path.​

A person may file a pro se petition for PCR. Documents and information necessary to file a pro se petition are available here. The petition does not need to be perfect, as it serves to get the case into court and triggers the appointment of an attorney to the case.​

If you are already in the PCR process and waiting, please be aware the courts are just now beginning to address cases under Watkins, and those cases are currently in various stages of negotiation and reversal. As you know justice moves slowly and it may take several months before you see movement in your particular case.

A grant of PCR may mean "release, new trial, modification of sentence, and such other relief as may be proper and just." ORS 138.520. In other words, a "win" in PCR proceedings does not necessarily mean release from prison but rather a retrial of your case. If a non-unanimous conviction is reverse in PCR, it will be sent back to the county of conviction. There, the DA in that county of conviction will determine whether to re-prosecute the case or not.​

Watkins did not directly address these types of cases. There is currently litigation on issues related to non-unanimity. Claims based on ineffective assistance of counsel, such as situations in which the attorney failed to poll the jury, should be discussed with a PCR attorney.