Louisiana voters took a stand for justice during the November election when they moved to end a Jim Crow era law that allowed juries to convict or acquit defendants without a unanimous decision. Reports showed the law disproportionately affected black defendants.
Newly approved, Louisiana State Amendment 2 requires juries to reach a unanimous decision in all non-capital felony cases. It takes effect January 1, 2019 and will only apply to crimes committed and brought to trial from that day forward.
Prior to 1898, jury decisions were unanimous, but lawmakers were explicit in their racist reason for the change during the Louisiana Constitutional Convention in 1898: “Our mission was, in the first place, to establish the supremacy of the white race in this State to the extent to which it could be legally and constitutionally done,” according to the Public Affairs Resource Council of Louisiana’s Guide to the 2018 Amendments.
When Louisiana lawmakers first passed the law, it required 9 of 12 jurors to agree for a conviction or acquittal to stand. In 1974 the law changed to require 10 of 12 jurors to agree on a verdict. For years, Black legislators and the American Civil Liberties Union pushed to have the law repealed. Recently their efforts gained more traction when journalists at The Baton Rouge Advocate tracked a year of convictions handed down by split-decision juries and published reports that showed African American defendants were 30 percent more likely to be convicted by non-unanimous juries than white defendants.
Armed with information from the news reports, justice advocates were able to develop a bipartisan supported grassroots campaign to get a question to repeal the law on the November ballot. The ballot question: Do you support an amendment to require a unanimous jury verdict in all noncapital felony cases for offenses that are committed on or after January 1, 2019?
In a state where 58 percent of voters chose Donald Trump in 2016, the 120-year-old split jury law was struck down. Oregon is now the only remaining state with a similar law on the books.
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