July 8, 2009

Guilty as charged by 10 to 2?

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In his weekly legal column for The New York Times, Adam Liptak highlights a new challenge to the jury policies of Oregon and Louisiana, the only two states that don’t required unanimous convictions for criminal cases.
Scott Bowen is an Oregonian sentenced to 17 years in prison for sex offenses. He says his 15-year-old runaway daughter falsely accused him to gain her independence. 
Bowen is asking the Supreme Court to reconsider its 1972 approval of the Oregon system that allows criminal convictions with the approval of only 10 jurors. That allows for two dissenters, as in Bowen’s case.
Whatever the facts of the Bowen family history, Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree said recent scholarship suggests that the original purpose of the non-unanimous jury “was to functionally silence the views of racial and ethnic minorities and women.”  Others argue that allowing divided juries to issue criminal convictions reduces the length and vigor of their debate over the innocence of the accused.

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