The New York Times had an interesting article today on the topic of unanimous juries. In Montana, under Article II, Section 26 of the Montana Constitution, people charged with crimes in Montana state courts have a constitutional right to a jury trial:
Section 26. Trial by jury. The right of trial by jury is secured to all and shall remain inviolate. But upon default of appearance or by consent of the parties expressed in such manner as the law may provide, all cases may be tried without a jury or before fewer than the number of jurors provided by law. In all civil actions, two-thirds of the jury may render a verdict, and a verdict so rendered shall have the same force and effect as if all had concurred therein. In all criminal actions, the verdict shall be unanimous.
As set forth above, Section 26 provides that, in a criminal case, a jury guilty verdict must be unanimous. Most Montanans probably already knew that to be the case, but may be surprised to learn that Oregon and Louisiana require only 10 out of 12 jurors to agree that a person is guilty of a crime for a conviction. Clearly we are fortunate in Montana to have a strong constitution protecting individual rights. The article discusses an Oregon man’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge his Oregon conviction in which only 10 out of 12 jurors voted to convict. According to the NY Times, the appeal is supported by “the American Bar Association, experts in jury behavior, legal historians, the criminal defense bar and civil rights lawyers.” The article raises the appropriate question as to whether 84% of jurors agreeing with the prosecution is sufficient–clearly, from a constitutional perspective, it should not be.