Previously, Louisiana was one of two states that allowed a non-unanimous jury for felony trials. That changed with the midterm elections. Voters approved an Amendment that requires unanimous juries for felony criminal convictions. The Amendment goes into effect on January 1, 2019, leaving Oregon as the only remaining state to allow non-unanimous felony convictions.
Eliminating a long-standing Jim Crow law
In 1898, Louisiana enacted a Jim Crow law that allowed non-unanimous jury felony convictions. The accused could be convicted of a felony if at least ten out of the 12 jurors agreed. The law was among several measures taken to limit the power of black voters and jurors in the late 19th century.
Wrongful convictions and racial disparity
Exoneration workers and advocates estimate the national wrongful conviction rate to be somewhere in between two and ten percent. Once convicted of a crime, especially a serious felony, it is nearly impossible to get an innocent person out of prison. Since the law’s enactment, non-unanimous juries have been responsible for an estimated 40 percent of criminal convictions. That percentage increases to 43 percent for black defendants and decreases to 33 percent for white defendants.
Protecting the rights of the accused
President John Adams said, “It is the unanimity of the jury that preserves the rights of mankind”. Accordingly, requiring a unanimous conviction could help reduce and prevent wrongful convictions. By forcing jurors to unanimously agree, evidence has shown that the jurors deliberate longer and evaluate evidence more thoroughly.
Supports of the Amendment hope to reduce racially disparate outcomes and systemic racism. Although the Amendment is a progressive step forward, strong legal representation plays a significant role in the outcome of a criminal case. Following an arrest for a criminal charge, seek help from a lawyer.