I have written about this before, but with Election Day less than a month away, I thought it bore repeating.
This fall, Louisiana voters will have the ability to right a historic wrong. In forty-eight other states (Oregon being the other lone exception) and in federal courts across the country, a conviction requires a unanimous vote – all jurors must agree on whether a prosecutor has met the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In Louisiana felony cases which carry a mandatory sentence at hard labor (which is most of them), only ten of twelve jurors must agree on whether the state has met its burden. Sen. J.P. Morrell (D-New Orleans) somehow managed to convince most of his fellow legislators to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to end this system and to fall in line with the rest of the country and the federal system.
The reasons for the non-unanimous rule date back to 1898, when white supremacists at Louisiana's constitutional convention wanted to increase the supply of free prison labor and nullify the voting power of black jurors. Their solution was to make it easier to convict people of felonies by ending the requirement that jury verdicts be unanimous. You would think that the rule would be “color-blind” in the sense that it applies to both white people and people of color (which is absolutely true). However, study after study after study has shown that the non-unanimous conviction rule disproportionately affects people of color.
More people have been recently exonerated for crimes they did not commit in Louisiana than in any other state. Approximately 40% of those persons were convicted by a non-unanimous jury. It is literally almost impossible to find ANYONE opposing the measure (I'm talking groups and not individuals). The Louisiana GOP supports it. The Louisiana Democratic Party supports it (how's that for strange bedfellows). The Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Louisiana District Attorneys Association (even stranger bedfellows) are both urging a “yes” vote. Powerful conservative groups, including Americans for Prosperity and the Louisiana Family Forum, have been on board for months.
The only person I can find on record as urging a “no” vote is Jeff Landry, our knuckle-dragging, Fox News-pandering attorney general. According to this article, his spokesman said “the non-unanimous jury law has a positive effect on the criminal justice system in Louisiana. We believe it makes for quicker and easier administration of the system.” Because, yeah, speed and “easy administration” are the paramount concerns of the criminal justice system, not actual people and their actual lives. Juries are in place to carefully and thoughtfully deliberate and consider the evidence presented to them, not to rubber stamp a guilty verdict and send someone up the river. Unanimous verdicts ensure that any and all objections by dissenting jurors are considered rather than being cast aside in the interests of expediency. Remember that movie “12 Angry Men,” where one juror out of twelve believes that there was reasonable doubt in the matter and ends up convincing the remaining eleven of his position? As it stands now, that would not have even been a possibility in Louisiana.
So let's do the right thing and vote “yes” on Amendment 2!