Last Friday, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry filed a brief with the United States Supreme Court in Ramos v. Louisiana, a murder case out of Orleans Parish in which lawyers for Mr. Ramos are seeking to overrule a precedent allowing for nonunanimous verdicts in state courts. The brief argues that the Supreme Court should ignore concerns about racism being the motivation into the enactment of Louisiana's split-verdict law, even though Landry concedes the controversial law was birthed in a notoriously racist 1898 constitutional convention. The brief further argues that efficiency, not racism, was the principal motivation behind the split-verdict law, and that a 1973 reform that subsequently required 10 of 12 votes rather than 9 of 12 to convict (or acquit) further diluted any taint resulting from the law's racist origins.
Mr. Ramos was convicted by an Orleans Parish jury in a 10-2 verdict. Put differently, 10 jurors voted to convict but 2 voted to acquit. If Mr. Ramos were arrested today, he would need to be convicted (or acquitted) by a unanimous jury, as Louisiana residents voted in a constitutional referendum to require such unanimous verdicts last year. However, the question still remains whether that new standard applies to older cases such as Mr. Ramos's. I feel strongly that in order to render a proper verdict, a jury must be unanimous one way or the other. "Efficiency" or "streamlining" the process is not an adequate justification for deviating from centuries of Anglo-Saxon legal traditions. Here's hoping that the Supreme Court strikes down its previous precedent holding that nonunanimous verdicts are acceptable.