'Like you died': Exonerated man rails against state's now unique non-unanimous jury system

Brad Holbrook spent more than six years in prison after being convicted of sex abuse in Yamhill County in 2002. In December 2017, Oregon's Court of Appeals overturned the conviction.

Oregon is now the only state in the U.S. where a jury can convict someone of a crime without reaching a unanimous verdict.

Voters in Louisiana chose to end a similar practice in their state on Tuesday.

Here in Oregon the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association opposes the policy and the Oregon District Attorneys Association once planned to overturn it.

But it's still in place.

In Oregon if at least 10 out of 12 jurors vote to convict you of a crime, you're guilty, unless it's murder or a misdemeanor in which unanimous verdicts are required.

The policy was put in place in the 1930s after voters added it in a constitutional amendment.

Critics say it's a system based in bias.

"They took my whole life away. They took my, every credential I had over this," said Brad Holbrook, a former California lawyer who once owned two restaurants.

He said the non-unanimous verdict policy contributed to his false conviction for sex abuse in Yamhill County in 2002. The conviction stemmed from an incident in McMinnville in which he was visiting his niece and sister-in-law and his niece's friend accused him of inappropriate contact.

“We were in the kitchen getting bean dip and then I was accused of touching. The story changed at various times," Holbrook said. "It's not an experience I want to try again. It’s very difficult.”

A jury convicted Holbrook by a vote of 11 to 1. Oregon's Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in December of last year after Holbrook filed multiple appeals.

But before that he spent more than six years in prison.

"Being confined was definitely a drastic deviation from what I was normally used to," Holbrook, who was also disbarred in California, explained. "It's just a complete wiping out of everything you were or once were. All your dreams you hoped for are just gone, taken off the map. It’s kind of like you died really.”

Holbrook said even running errands like going to the post office is something he appreciates since he got out of prison in 2008.

"It’s long past due that Oregon changes and goes to a unanimous jury verdict. It’s gonna help a lot of people," he said. "Having a jury system that requires a unanimous jury verdict allows the jurors to be able to deliberate and take the time to go through the facts of each case in a more careful fashion.”

Holbrook currently runs a business offering paralegal services. He's also planning to take the bar exam again in California in February.

Alice Lundell, director of communication for Oregon Innocence Project, sent KATU the following statement on Wednesday:

"Following Louisiana’s vote last night, Oregon is now the only state allowing 10-2 or 11-1 jury verdicts in most felony cases (capital cases require unanimous verdicts).

That could mean being found guilty by fewer than twelve jurors but could also mean being found not guilty by fewer than twelve jurors.

In practice, however, our view and that of many who’ve looked into effects of non-unanimous juries, it tends to act to the detriment of defendants:

It encourages deliberating to get to a result, rather than to get to the truth

It tends to exclude minority voices on the jury, and in Oregon that will especially mean the voices of people of color who are already underrepresented on juries and overrepresented as defendants

It increases risk of wrongful conviction by making convictions easier to get

It flies in the face of the constitutional right to due process by failing to require that all jurors are convinced of the verdict.

Furthermore, Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury rule was a holdover from the Jim Crow era, and our equivalent was introduced amid a fervor of anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and anti-Catholic sentiment in Oregon.

In a detailed opinion and order issued this year, a Multnomah trial court concluded that there was significant circumstantial evidence of a disparate impact on minorities from the

non unanimous jury scheme. (State v. Olan Jermaine Williams)

We’ve filed an amicus brief setting out the problems with non-unanimous juries in a current case, State v Brewer (see brief).

To repeal non-unanimous juries would require a ballot measure since it was introduced through constitutional amendment with the usual requirement of either signature gathering or a legislative referral to put it on the ballot."

The Oregon District Attorneys Association did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment on Wednesday.

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