The right to a unanimous jury verdict in a criminal case is not simply the right to be free from conviction unless all jurors vote guilty. As the Washington Supreme Court recently explained, this right carries the requirement that the jury reach its decision only after all jurors have deliberated with one another on all aspects of the case.
In State v. Lamar, the trial court reconstituted the jury with an alternate midway through deliberations after one of the original jurors became ill. The trial court did not instruct the reconstituted jury to begin deliberations on all aspects of the case anew but, rather, directed the 11 original jurors to bring the alternate “up to speed” and resume deliberations from that point.
Even though Lamar did not object to this instruction at trial and all members of the reconstituted jury reported that they voted to convict when polled, the Supreme Court reversed, holding that the failure to issue a new deliberation instruction was a manifest error affecting a constitutional right and that prejudice was presumed because inherent in the right to a unanimous jury verdict is the right to have a verdict based on full and complete deliberation. The trial court’s instruction, which the jury was presumed to follow, directed otherwise. Accordingly, there was no assurance that the verdict was based on required deliberation.
Lamar represents another decision (in the same vein, for example, as State v. Monday) in which the Court has drawn a bright line requiring adherence to procedural rules as a means to safeguard substantive justice. Lamar makes clear that confidence in criminal proceedings is rooted in procedures that ensure reasoned and evidence-based decisionmaking and eliminate outcomes based on private or illegitimate prferences. Proceedings that deviate from such requirements, the Court has made clear, fail to comply with basic constiutitonal rights.