Garcetti Joins Drive Against Unanimous Verdict Requirement


Joining the ranks of those calling for a shake-up of the jury system, Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti said Wednesday that juries in most criminal cases should no longer be required to reach a unanimous verdict.

Instead of the 12-0 verdict for guilty or not guilty that has long been a mainstay of California law, Garcetti said he now favors a verdict of 10-2 in all felony trials except death penalty cases. Because a life is at stake, he said, those verdicts should remain unanimous.

Adopting a 10-2 verdict in other felonies--a change that requires an amendment to the state Constitution--would slash the number of hung juries and save taxpayers millions of dollars that would otherwise be spent on retrials, Garcetti asserted. It would also, he maintained, spare crime victims the “agony of retrials” and increase public confidence in the jury system.


Garcetti, who is running for reelection on March 26, insisted Wednesday that his newfound support for a 10-2 verdict was not a campaign ploy. Nor, he said, did it have anything to do with the verdict in the O.J. Simpson double-murder trial or the clamor for reform of the criminal justice system that Simpson’s acquittal has produced.

Instead, he asked: “How many decisions in life are required to be unanimous decisions?”

Answering the question, he went on: “Very, very few. What we’re saying is we don’t want this to be a bare majority. We’re still saying 10 out of 12.”

The 12-0 vote for conviction or acquittal on a felony charge has long been a fixture in the California Constitution. It is a product of English common law--and 600 years of legal precedent.

Felonies include serious crimes such as robbery, arson and manslaughter. Misdemeanors such as trespassing can be tried in California by a jury of fewer than 12.

Only two states, Louisiana and Oregon, permit conviction of a felony charge on a 10-2 vote. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the practice in 1972.

Over the past few years, with experts saying that a series of sensational cases have shaken confidence in the integrity of the courts, support in California has grown significantly for a 10-2 or 11-1 vote.


Joining other Republican lawmakers, victims’ rights groups and prosecutors, Gov. Pete Wilson announced his support in July for a 10-2 verdict. Democrats, civil libertarians and defense attorneys consistently have opposed any change from the 12-0 standard.

Signatures are being gathered for a November ballot initiative that would allow 10-2 verdicts--plus other changes, such as toughening parole rules and ending conjugal visits.

The family of slaying victim Ronald Lyle Goldman was the first to sign the petition, and Garcetti announced his support Wednesday for the proposal.

“This has nothing to do with any particular case,” Garcetti said at a press conference. “It’s just been an evolution.”

He said he reached the decision a few days ago after mulling it over for years.

Asked repeatedly whether the timing of his announcement had more to do with the upcoming election than with his conviction, Garcetti replied: “I’m criticized [for] everything I do that is controversial.”

He ticked off numbers that he said bear out the logic of a change:

* About 14% of the 3,000 felony trials each year in Los Angeles County result in a hung jury, he said.


* Of that number, 41% produce juries deadlocked 10-2 or 11-1 for conviction or acquittal, Garcetti said, citing a study by the county public defender’s office.

* When the district attorney’s office retries a case, it wins a conviction 75% of the time, Garcetti said, referring to statistics produced by his own office.

Critics, however, challenged Garcetti’s statistics.

For example, between July 1994 and last week, of all felonies handled by public defenders that were retried after hung juries, 56% produced a conviction and 18% ended in acquittals. The remainder of the retrials resulted in another hung jury.