Currently, there are only two states that allow for non-unanimous jury verdicts in criminal cases. One is Oregon, which requires a vote of 11 out of 12 to convict in most felony cases (but not cases that are punishable by life in prison). The other is Louisiana. In certain felony cases, we have 6-person juries, all of whom must concur to reach a verdict. In felony cases necessarily punishable by hard labor, a defendant is entitled to a jury of 12 persons, 10 of whom must concur to reach a verdict (unless the case is a capital charge, in which case the vote must be unanimous).
I have railed against non-unanimous verdicts before. The simple fact is that the 10-2 rule in Louisiana has its roots in the Jim Crow era, and it was enacted with a racist purpose. Simply stated: the law was enacted for the specific purpose of making it easier to convict black defendants. The Supreme Court has held on several occasions that non-unanimous verdicts do not violate the Constitution. However, my own belief is that the framers of the Constitution clearly intended that the constitutional right to trial should include a corresponding right to a unanimous verdict (John Adams once said, "It is the unanimity of the jury that preserves the rights of mankind").
But we may be on the verge of a major breakthrough. This legislative session, Sen. J.P. Morrell (D-New Orleans) sponsored a bill to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November to end the non-unanimous verdict system. The bill was, unsurprisingly, opposed by the powerful Louisiana District Attorneys Association (LDAA). LDAA's concerns center around its belief that doing away with the non-unanimous requirement would lead to inefficiency by making it more difficult to convict defendants that its members are prosecuting. Basically, LDAA is trying to ensure that Its members have to do less work to convict a defendant.
In my opinion, this is the worst possible justification for non-unanimous jury verdicts. In fact, I do not know any principled reason for doing it in the first place. On the other hand, there are a legion of reasons for doing away with the current system: the racist history already mentioned, the prevention of wrongful convictions, and the fact that Louisiana is out of touch with 48 other states and the federal system being just a few good ones.
Even the LDAA (perhaps recognizing the direction in which the winds of change are blowing) moved from being opposed to the bill to taking no position in March, largely due to the “historical origins of this law.” All signs point to Sen. Morrell's bill passing and the issue being sent to the electorate in November. I would urge all Louisianans to vote to end the system we currently have in place.
As always, if you or somebody you know is being investigated by the police or has been arrested, call the Law Office of Alex Kriksciun today!