When the Supreme Court changes course and announces a new rule of constitutional criminal law, the question remains: what happens to those imprisoned by the old practice now deemed unconstitutional? Since 1989, that question has been answered by Teague v. Lane, a restrictive holding that limits retroactivity by prioritizing judicial resources over the constitutional rights of incarcerated people. But should it matter if the old rule has explicitly racist origins?
Convictions by non-unanimous juries emerged in Louisiana and Oregon with the stated intention of rendering Black jurors' votes meaningless. In 2020, the Supreme Court in Ramos v. Louisiana held that non-unanimous juries violate the Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury, recognizing the practice's racist origins. Yet, when deciding the issue of Ramos retroactivity in Edwards v. Vannoy, the Court doubled down on its retroactivity ban, leaving thousands of people imprisoned by a relic of Jim Crow.
This Note analyzes the Court's retroactivity framework through the lens of non-unanimous jury verdicts. It explores the history of non-unanimous juries, the role of federal habeas review of state convictions, and the evolution of the Court’s retroactivity doctrine. It proposes adopting a new retroactivity framework: one that accounts for the harmful origins and impacts of an old rule. It suggests that by leaving people incarcerated by a Jim Crow-era procedure, the Court perpetuates systemic racism.
Ramos Retroactivity and the False Promise of Teague v. Lane,
76 U. MIA L. Rev.
Available at: https://repository.law.miami.edu/umlr/vol76/iss3/6