Apodaca v. Oregon Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Three defendants were convicted in Oregon by less-than-unanimous juries, per Oregon law. The appealed on Sixth Amendment grounds.

Facts of the case

Apodaca and two other defendants were convicted of assault, burglary, and grand larceny before three separate juries, all of which returned verdicts which were less than unanimous. Two of the cases were 11-1 and the other was 10-2 in favor of conviction.

Question

Whether the Sixth Amendment’s right to trial by jury requires . . . unanimity.

Answer

No. The requirement of unanimity is based in custom, rather than in the Constitution of the United States. In contemporary society, the essential feature of a jury . . . lies in the interposition between the accused and his accuser of the commonsense judgment in a group of laymen, able to deliberate on the defendant’s guilt, free from outside attempts at intimidation. The court saw no difference between juries required to act un-animously and those of majority rule. Further, unanimity does not satisfy reasonable doubt because, when this burden of proof was formulated, the Court purported to draw no support from the Sixth Amendment. As to the argument that the Fourteenth Amendment requirement that a jury reflect a cross section of the community is furthered by unanimity, the court held that not every distinct voice in the community has a right to be represented on every jury and a right to prevent conviction of a defendant in every case, and that it would not as
sume that minority groups on a jury will not adequately represent the viewpoint of those groups simply because they might be outvoted in the final result.

Conclusion

The  United States Supreme Court affirmed petitioners’ convictions and held that U.S. Const. amend VI did not require a conviction by a unanimous verdict. The Supreme Court’s inquiry in determining whether U.S. Const. amend. VI requires a unanimous verdict in a criminal case must focus upon the function served by the jury in contemporary society. The purpose of trial by jury is to prevent oppression by the government by providing a safeguard against the corrupt or overzealous prosecutor and against the compliant, biased, or eccentric judge. Given this purpose, the essential feature of a jury obviously lies in the interposition between the accused and his accuser of the commonsense judgment of a group of laymen . A requirement of unanimity, however, does not materially contribute to the exercise of this commonsense judgment.

  • Case Brief: 1972
  • Petitioner: Apodaca
  • Respondent: Oregon
  • Decided by: Burger Court

Citation: 406 US 404 (1972)
ReArgued: Jan 10, 1972
Decided: May 22, 1972
Argued: Mar 1, 1971