Right to Jury Unanimity Upheld
Washington, DC (June 1, 1999) --
Supreme Court Vacates Drug Conviction
The U.S. Supreme Court today held that before a jury can find that the government has proven the federal crime of “Continuing Criminal Enterprise,” it must agree that a “continuing series”of drug offenses was proven beyond a reasonable doubt — and must be unanimous as to what those offenses were. Richardson v.United States, 97-8629. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of the right to jury unanimity.
NACDL President Larry Pozner issued the following statement from his office in Denver today:
“The inviolable right to a jury trial in criminal cases -- reaching back to the time when King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215 -- must not be diluted by the government simply throwing multiple charges against the wall of justice to see if any of them stick. Our cherished liberties cannot be protected from governmental overreaching unless juries are instructed that overcoming the presumption of innocence requires their unanimous agreement as to each and every element of the accusation.
“The government in this case, using one of the most deadly weapons in the ‘war on crime’ -- a charge calling for imprisonment for life without parole -- took one shortcut too many, the Supreme Court properly notes. Our fundamental liberties as Americans desperately need to be reasserted, and proclaimed throughout the land, as the Court has just done.”