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Apodaca v. Oregon

The Sixth And Fourteenth Amendment Cases

The appellants' legal counsel made a case under both the Sixth and the Fourteenth amendments, seeking to prove that the use of a verdict obtained by a nonunanimous jury violated a defendant's constitutional rights. The two amendments both concern the conduct of courts in handling criminal trials, but the similarity ends there. The Sixth Amendment was ratified, along with the other nine amendments that make up the Bill of Rights, in 1791, and it applies chiefly to the federal government, ensuring that federal courts do not violate the rights of American citizens. The Fourteenth, on the other hand, became a part of the American legal environment on the heels of the Civil War. It was, along with the amendments that directly preceded and followed it, a part of the "Reconstruction Amendments," and was directed chiefly at the states, to ensure that courts in the former slave-holding states of the South did not violate the civil rights of former slaves.

In fact, as Justice White observed, writing for the plurality that upheld the Oregon court's judgment in Apodaca, the Fourteenth Amendment ensured that the Sixth Amendment was applied to the states. But where White disagreed with the appellants was in their claim that the Sixth Amendment required jury unanimity in order to protect the standard of reasonable doubt, and to uphold the "due process of law" mandated in the Fourteenth Amendment. The reasonable doubt standard, in fact, is not an actual part of the Constitution; rather, it is implied in the Fourteenth Amendment. And, White noted, the reasonable doubt argument for a unanimous jury had recently been rejected by the Court in the companion case of Johnson v. Louisiana.

The petitioners had further argued that, because the Fourteenth Amendment requires jury panels which represent the community as a whole, a jury which votes to convict by a less than unanimous decision has automatically excluded the community's minority elements. White, again speaking for the plurality, rejected that claim on two bases. First of all, he said, the Constitution does not state that "every distinct voice in the community has a right to be represented on every jury"; rather, it merely forbids "systematic exclusion of identifiable segments of the community from jury panels and from the juries ultimately drawn from those panels." Also, White and the other justices voting with him (Chief Justice Burger and Justices Blackmun and Rehnquist) rejected the petitioners' implied assumption that the majority elements of a community would necessarily vote on the basis of ethnic prejudice, or that the jury majority's ability to outvote the minority in itself implied such prejudice.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972Apodaca v. Oregon - Significance, The Sixth And Fourteenth Amendment Cases, A Less Than Unanimous Court, Further Readings