The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari in State v. Vaughn to address a question left open by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Ramos v. Louisiana and follow-on cases: whether a defendant is entitled to a new trial if his convictions by a non-unanimous jury were final, but his sentences were under review at the time Ramos was decided. The court held that even if a defendant’s sentence or resentencing is still on appeal, a defendant is not entitled to a new trial under Ramos once a direct review of his non-unanimous conviction is final. The 4-3 decision was written by Justice Jay B. McCallum, with dissents by Justices James T. Genovese and Scott J. Crichton. 

Non-Unanimous Jury Verdicts in Louisiana and Post-Ramos Decisions

Until recently, Louisiana allowed non-unanimous jury verdicts to convict defendants of serious felonies. In 2018, Louisiana voters amended the state constitution to require unanimous jury verdicts in serious felony cases.[1] On April 20, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Ramos v. Louisiana that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, as incorporated against the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, requires a unanimous jury verdict in both state and federal criminal trials.[2] However, Ramos did not address whether its ruling would apply retroactively to convictions prior to Ramos’ decision date.

Edwards v. Vannoy, decided in May 2021, provided the U.S. Supreme Court with an opportunity to address the question of retroactivity. In that case, the Court determined that Ramos did not require the reversal of verdicts finalized prior to April 20, 2020; however, it clarified that states could pass laws applying Ramos retroactively.[3] The Louisiana Supreme Court considered retroactive application of Ramos in 2022 in State v. Reddick, and it held that Ramos was not retroactive for cases on collateral review in Louisiana.[4] Finally, Vaughn provided the state the opportunity to consider whether Ramos applied when a defendant’s sentence was under review but his convictions by a non-unanimous jury were final.

Vaughn Procedural History

In Vaughn, both the majority and the dissent pointed to key dates in the timeline of Vaughn’s conviction and appeals. A jury convicted Vaughn of first-degree robbery and obstruction of justice on 10-2 votes in 2017. He was sentenced to concurrent terms of 20 years at hard labor on the robbery conviction and 10 years for obstruction of justice.[5] He received a lengthy sentence on the robbery conviction under Louisiana’s habitual offender statute. The First Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his appeals related to claims regarding the sufficiency of the evidence and the excessiveness of his sentence.[6] The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed the convictions but vacated the habitual offender sentence after the statute was amended, and it remanded the case to the trial court for resentencing.[7] Ramos was decided on April 20, 2020, and on August 31, 2020, the trial court resentenced Vaughn to 18 years for the armed robbery conviction. Once again, Vaughn appealed his resentencing to the First Circuit, arguing that he was entitled to a new trial under Ramos because his case was pending on direct review and his resentencing was not yet final. The First Circuit agreed with Vaughn and vacated both convictions, the habitual offender adjudication, and both sentences. The court found that only his conviction was final and still under direct review. Following the First Circuit ruling, the State of Louisiana appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court.[8]

Majority Opinion

The Louisiana Supreme Court held that a case is no longer on direct review for purposes of Reddick and Ramos once a conviction has become final. A case is no longer on direct appeal if the appeal of the resentencing is the only matter remaining. In reaching this conclusion, the court pointed to the relevant procedural history. Mr. Vaughn’s convictions and sentences were affirmed in 2018. On December 9, 2019, the state supreme court vacated his sentence and remanded the case to the trial court for resentencing. At this point, all other relief had been denied, and no rehearing was requested. In the majority’s view, this is when Mr. Vaughn’s conviction became final.

The court relied on State v. Lewis, a Louisiana Supreme Court decision from 1977, and Griffith v. Kentucky, a U.S. Supreme Court case, to support December 9, 2019, as the date Vaughn’s convictions became final. In Lewis, the defendant first raised issues concerning his conviction after his resentencing. The court determined that Lewis was foreclosed from raising issues concerning his conviction because it “had already been affirmed and the judgment therein was final fourteen days after its rendition upon the failure of defendant to file an application for a rehearing.”[9] Likewise, the Griffith Court ruled a decade later that finality meant “a case in which a judgment of conviction has been rendered, the availability of appeal exhausted, and the time for a petition for certiorari elapsed or a petition for certiorari finally denied.”[10] 

The majority also distinguished the Ramos decision from the facts in Vaughn. Ramos involved a defendant’s conviction by a non-unanimous jury; Vaughn’s appeal was related to his sentencing. Justice McCallum wrote, “That a defendant’s sentence is not final does not affect the finality of his conviction. Nor does a case remain on direct review for purposes of Ramos when the only unresolved issue is a defendant’s sentence; the lack of a final sentence does not return a conviction to the direct review process.”[11]


Justice Genovese, joined by Justice Piper D. Griffin, would have affirmed the First Circuit’s finding that Vaughn’s case was on direct review at the time Ramos was decided. He argued that the majority’s holding amounted to a jurisprudentially created rule that a case is no longer on direct review once a conviction is final. 

Justice Genovese pointed to Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure articles 912, 924.1, and 930.8(A) in arguing that a case remains on direct review until a defendant’s conviction and sentence both become final. The cases the majority relied upon, he argued, are distinguishable from the facts at hand because appellate review of the defendants’ convictions and sentences was final in the cases cited. Here, Vaughn’s appeal was not yet final, and he was not yet eligible for state collateral review.[12]

Justice Crichton joined in Justices Genovese’s dissent but wrote a brief, separate dissenting opinion to emphasize that his determination that Vaughn’s case was pending on direct appeal at the time Ramos was decided starts and ends with the unambiguous language of the Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure. He wrote that the code provides two options for appellate review of a criminal conviction: direct review and collateral review. There is no gray area as contemplated by the majority. Justice Crichton pointed to Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure article 930.8, which provides, in pertinent part, that no application for post-conviction relief “shall be considered if it is filed more than two years after the judgement of conviction and sentence has become final.” Here, Vaughn’s sentence was vacated while on direct appellate review. Because his sentence was not yet final, he was not eligible to apply for post-conviction relief under article 930.8. In Justice Crichton’s view, if Vaughn’s case was not on collateral review, it must be on direct review, making him eligible for relief granted under Ramos.[13]

[1] La. Const. art. I, § 17(A).

[2] Ramos v. Louisiana, 140 S. Ct. 1390, 1397 (2020). 

[3] Edwards v. Vannoy, 141 S. Ct. 1547, 1554 (2021).

[4] State v. Reddick, 2021-01893, p.2 (La. 10/21/22), 351 So.3d 273, 274-75.

[5] State v. Vaughn, 2022-00214, p. 2 (La. 05/05/2023); 2023 La. LEXIS 1025.

[6] Id at p. 2-3.

[7] Id at p. 3.

[8] Id.

[9] State v. Lewis, 350 So.2d 1197, 1198 (La. 1977).

[10] Griffith v. Kentucky, 479 U.S. 314, 321 n.6 (1987).

[11] Vaughn, 2023 La. LEXIS 1025 at p. 4.

[12] Id at p. 10.

[13] Id at pp. 13-14




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