• Louisiana’s Non-Unanimous Jury

    Author : Criminal Defense Associates December 25, 2018

    This week, in Louisiana, a ballot measure would change the Louisiana constitution when it comes to criminal convictions. Currently, Louisiana is one of two states that does not require a unanimous jury to convict a defendant. Only ten of twelve jurors are required to be in agreement to return a guilty verdict. The law was part of the constitution signed in 1898, adopted as part of the Jim Crow era immediately following Reconstruction. In fact, at the constitutional convention at the time, the measure was designed specifically to ‘perpetuate the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon race in Louisiana.'

    Proponents of the amendment cite the motivation behind this policy and point to the racial disparities found in Louisiana. It has the second highest rate of incarceration in the country. Oregon is the only other state which does not require a unanimous jury, although, for murder convictions, all 12 must agree. Louisiana is the only state where a defendant can receive an automatic life without a role based on a 10 of 12 jurors. The Louisiana-based newspaper, The Advocate, found that 40 percent of convictions with 12-member juries had at least one juror unconvinced. The paper also determined that black defendants were 30 percent more likely than white ones to be convicted by split juries.

    The law is still somewhat controversial amongst the population. However, the fact that the state legislature approved the bill to put the amendment on the ballot is significant: a supermajority was required before it could proceed. But it has resulted in some interesting bipartisanship, the likes of which is usually not seen in ultra-conservative Louisiana. A conservative network funded by the Kochs has pushed the narrative to amend the system, urging Louisianans to protect American freedom and liberty. Several law enforcement officials have also officially lodged their support in favor of a unanimous jury verdict in felony trials. But the state's district attorneys and most of its sheriffs have remained largely silent on the matter, with some even claiming that there has been no evidence that the law currently in place has resulted in any tangible injustice. Sen. Mack ‘Bodi' White (yes, seriously), a Republican, voted against the bill's passage in committee. He argued that requiring unanimous juries would lead to more hung juries and retrials, which would cost the state more money.

    But the Innocence Project has found at least a dozen cases where inmates who had been found guilty by a nonunanimous jury later won their freedom. Ten individuals received compensation for their wrongful conviction – and 9 of those were black. There is not enough statistical evidence to demonstrate a trend, but those numbers are troubling, nonetheless. In fact, Louisiana is one of the highest states, per capita, where convicts have been freed due to bogus convictions.

    The measure gets officially determined by the public on November 6. Huge campaigns have focused on the item, in large part encouraging voters to approve the amendment and require juries to convict unanimously. It would finally be on par with the courts of nearly every other state, and the federal justice system. Whether or not that would rectify the more nefarious problems of the courts in Louisiana remains to be seen – but it’s a step forward.

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