March 22, 2018

CJRC Files Amicus Brief with U.S. Supreme Court in State v. Sims

The Criminal Justice Reform Clinic filed an amicus brief to SCOTUS about the unconstitutionality of non-unanimous juries in the Louisiana case State v. Sims.

Lewis & Clark Law School’s Criminal Justice Reform Clinic filed an amicus brief about the unconstitutionality of non-unanimous juries in the Louisiana case State v. Sims.

This is the second amicus brief the Clinic has filed in a Louisiana case on the subject of non-unanimous juries. The Clinic filed a brief last year in Lambert v. Louisiana. “I like to think that all the attention we received on our last case and with our last amicus brief made a justice or more than one justice interested in the issue,” CJRC director and Lewis & Clark Law professor Kaplan says.

Kaplan, along with Clinic students, wrote this latest brief after the Supreme Court asked the state to respond to Sims’ request for review. “Unlike the last one, this time, the Court has asked the state to respond, which is why I decided to chime in,” Kaplan says.

“Students in the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic have researched this issue in-depth and helped write the amicus brief, a pretty amazing assignment for second year law students,” Kaplan says.

The defendant in this case is David Sims, who was convicted in Louisiana of aggravated rape and sexual battery in May 2015. Two of the 12 jurors in his case did not believe that the state had met its burden.  The trial judge sentenced Sims to life without parole.

On appeal, which he lost, in addition to challenging the sufficiency of evidence, Sims also challenged the non-unanimous verdict.  The Louisiana Supreme Court denied his writ of review. Sims then filed a petition to SCOTUS on the non-unanimous jury issue.

“The fact that a person can be convicted of a felony and receive a Life Without Parole sentence when two of the 12 jurors did not believe the state could make its case beyond a reasonable doubt (as was the situation in Mr. Sims’ case) is extremely troubling,” Kaplan says.

Kaplan urges both Louisiana and Oregon to “follow the rule that all 48 other states and the federal government follow and require unanimous juries to decide all criminal matters.” She also argues in the CJRC brief that in both states, “discriminatory intent was behind passing these laws and continues to play out under this system today. Both reasons on their own should be enough to end this practice.”