March 23, 2022

CJRC Student Advocates for Oregon Legislation

The Criminal Justice Reform Clinic and its students, working on the issue of nonunanimous jury convictions, advocated for a state law to give those convicted by nonunanimous jury in the past the right to petition to have their cases vacated.

Criminal Justice Reform Clinic (CJRC or Clinic) students and its director, professor Aliza Kaplan worked diligently to encourage the passage of SB 1511, which would have made Ramos v. Louisiana retroactively apply to those who were convicted by a nonunanimous jury verdict. The bill ultimately did not pass during the Oregon state legislature’s Spring 2022 session. Now, it is up to the Oregon Supreme Court to decide the issue of retroactivity.

“We’ve been working on nonunanimous jury issues for many years now,” said CJRC director and professor Aliza Kaplan. “First, we researched and uncovered historical evidence of the racist origins of Oregon’s nonuanimous jury law from back in 1934. We submitted amici briefs to the US Supreme Court numerous times on the issue and then in Ramos v. Louisiana, where the Court found in 2020 that nonunanimous convictions in state criminal courts are unconstitutional.”

One year later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Edwards v. Vannoy that its Ramos decision was not retroactive, so those with prior nonunanimous convictions had no recourse to petition for relief on that basis. The Edwards Court noted however that states are free to decide how to handle retroactivity under their own laws.

“Since the Edwards ruling, we have been working with state legislators, community organizations and other stakeholders to draft SB 1511 as well continue to provide legal assistance to those who were convicted by a nonunanimous jury, through our Ramos Project.” explained Kaplan.

Third year law student Mark Cebert has focused on this effort for a couple years. He began his work on nonunanimous juries following the Ramos ruling looking into liability issues for the state bar during his internship there over the summer 2020. Joining the Clinic as a 3L in early 2021, Cebert helped review drafts of the legislation and last fall had the opportunity to testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the bill.

At the hearing, Cebert shared the Clinic’s research regarding the history of the rule along with the data of who is currently in prison due to nonunanimous convictions, data collected through the work of the Clinic’s Ramos Project.

“Our section of the hearing was about an hour and a half, with my own individual presentation of about five minutes.” Cebert explained. Ramos Project attorneys Laney Ellisor, 17 and attorneys from Tonkon Torp joined Cebert in a presentation.

“The individuals [seeking help under SB1511] aren’t trying to escape justice, actually quite the opposite,” Cebert told the committee. “They are asking for justice.”