SALEM, Ore.– A Jewish man charged in a murder investigation was one of the main reasons why Oregonians got rid of the unanimous jury system. It happened in the 1930s when the jury couldn’t decide whether to convict him for murder or not. 11 people wanted to convict him but 1 person voted against it. They decided to charge him with manslaughter.
George Joseph is a staff writer for “The Appeal” and has researched the topic of split guilty verdicts extensively. He explains”…critics would argue that having hung juries isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it shows that there was a reasonable doubt about someone’s guilt at least to some jurors which they feel is an important constitutional protection for defendants in this country.” People thought the unanimous voting was a way to let Eastern European immigrants off easy since it was hard to have every juror agree the immigrant was guilty.
This year unanimous voting might be coming back. Oregon democratic leaders are getting a head start on changing Oregon’s criminal justice system in 2019. Oregon is the only state that still allows juries to be non-unanimous when voting on crimes like manslaughter, rape, and arson. According to the Oregonian, all other states and federal government require all 12 jurors to vote in favor of the conviction, not just 10 or 11. Joseph says, “part of it also is that for some prosecutors historically they viewed having non-unanimous juries as a more efficient system because it resulted in fewer hung juries which would mean fewer retrials for the court system.” Oregon’s house majority leader Jennifer Williamson of Portland says she has 2 bills lined up for next year. One will get rid of a 10 to 2 jury verdict for most felony cases. The other would be for voters to decide to change the state constitution to get rid of the amendment that allows non-unanimous jury verdicts.