Court of Appeals Determines That Servicemembers Do Not Have The Right To A Unanimous Verdict

In 2020, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Ramos v. Louisiana. In Ramos, the Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury included the requirement that jury verdicts be unanimous in order to convict. Since that time, military practitioners have been arguing to the military courts of appeal that Ramos should apply at courts-martial as well.

On June 29, 2023, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the highest military court of criminal appeals, decided the case of United States v. Anderson. Anderson is the first decision on unanimous jury verdicts from this Court since Ramos was decided. The Court held that servicemembers do not have the right to a unanimous verdict at court-martial.

The Court evaluated the issue under the Sixth and Fifth Amendments. First, it discussed Supreme Court cases that have excepted the military justice system from the Sixth Amendment right to a jury. Military justice rules, including those about member panels and the required votes for conviction, are created by Congress and are not founded in the Sixth Amendment. The Court decided that without the Sixth Amendment right to a jury, the holding in Ramos does not apply at court-martial.

Although servicemembers do have a constitutional right to an impartial members panel, the Court distinguished impartiality from unanimity. It found that the structural procedures for courts-martial ensure impartiality without requiring unanimous verdicts.

Finally, the Court evaluated whether a unanimous verdict was required under the Fifth Amendment right to Due Process. The Court decided that the factors in favor of changing the statutory court-martial procedure in place now are not weighty enough to overcome the balance struck by Congress. The Court also found the government’s reasons for nonunanimous verdicts to be rationally related to a legitimate government purpose, thereby satisfying the Fifth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

If you or your loved one is facing a court-martial or wants to appeal a court-martial conviction, you need someone with experience who knows the law. I have the experience you need. Please call Bill Cassara at (706) 445-2943 for a free consultation.

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