Louisiana is one of only two states in the country that allows for nonunanimous verdicts in criminal cases. Our state constitution states that a case "in which the punishment is necessarily confinement at hard labor shall be tried before a jury of 12 persons, 10 of whom must concur to render a verdict." Significantly, this also applies to second-degree murder, first degree (aggravated) rape, and aggravated kidnapping cases, where a conviction results in an automatic sentence of life imprisonment at hard labor. Oregon is the other state that allows for nonunanimous verdicts, however, in cases where a life sentence is at stake, the jury must reach a unanimous verdict to convict.
Which brings me to a hearing that was held earlier this week at Tulane and Broad. Colin Reingold, a line Orleans Public Defenders attorney (and a good one at that), asked Judge Arthur Hunter to declare Louisiana's nonunanimous verdict provision unconstitutional. One of the arguments that Mr. Reingold made to Judge Hunter was that the nonunanimous provision was and is designed to marginalize the influence of black jurors. He supported his arguments with testimony from a professor at Tulane, who attributed the system to an "invidious racial intent" among legislators who gathered at a constitutional convention in 1898 to disenfranchise blacks and poor whites.
Predictably, the district attorney's office went bananas. Assistant District Attorney Laura Rodrigue (an extremely capable prosecutor and, incidentally, the daughter of District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro) argued that nonunanimous verdicts have nothing to do with race, but rather stem from a “desire for judicial efficiency,” as per to the Advocate. I wonder if she said it with a straight face.
It seems to me that the District Attorney's office is solely concerned with convicting as many people as possible. If something can make the office's collective job of convicting people easier and faster, they are inevitably going to be for it. I think it telling that today, Mr. Cannizzaro penned an op-ed in the Times Picayune essentially bragging about his 90% conviction rate. There is no question in my mind that the district attorney's office has accepted more cases and is much better prepared under Mr. Cannizzaro than his predecessor. This only underscores the need for a tough, prepared New Orleans criminal defense attorney to fight for you.
Judge Hunter denied Mr. Reingold's motion yesterday. I hope the fight will continue.