Juries and Puerto Rico

Following up on our previous two posts, how will the case of Ramos v. Louisiana be decided? Although second-guessing SCOTUS is always a perilous business, based on what I heard during the oral arguments in this case, I will venture two guesses: SCOTUS will not only conclude that the Sixth Amendment requires jury verdicts to be unanimous in criminal cases; SCOTUS will also rule that the Sixth Amendment applies to the states.

But how would such a ruling affect Puerto Rico? Specifically, how would the Sixth Amendment apply to Puerto Rico? Like Louisiana, Puerto Rico allows juries to render non-unanimous verdicts in criminal cases. Puerto Rico, however, is not a State; it is still a territory under the jurisdiction of the United States, and SCOTUS has previously ruled in a series of racist decisions known collectively as the “Insular Cases” that the full Constitution does not apply to Puerto Rico, including the right to a jury trial, because Puerto Rico is supposedly an “unincorporated territory” of the United States–a category that was entirely invented out of thin air by SCOTUS in the early 1900s to justify Puerto Rico’s second-class colonial status at the time. (Professor Bartholomew Sparrow has written an entire book about this series of shameful cases; see book cover below.) Personally, I am hoping SCOTUS will use the occasion of Ramos v. Louisiana to overturn these discredited Insular Cases, especially the infamous case of Balzac v. Porto Rico. With the possible exception of Dred Scott v. Sandford or Prigg v. Pennsylvania, the Balzac case has to be one of the worst and ugliest SCOTUS decisions of all time. I will delve into the facts of the Balzac case in my next post.

Image result for the insular cases

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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