Louisiana’s justice system is moving into the 21st century after voters struck down one of the last remaining Jim Crow laws allowing juries to convict people with split verdicts, according to NOLA. com/The Times-Picayune.
Louisiana was the only state in the nation where a verdict of 11-1 or 10-2 from a 12-person jury could result in a person receiving a life-without-the-possibility-of-parole sentence.
The new law now requires juries to have an unanimous decision for a conviction, which ended this 138 year Jim Crow practice.
“This would literally change what mass incarceration looks like in Louisiana” said Norris Henderson ,who spent three decades at Louisiana State Penitentiary. “This is probably the most important ballot measure ever in my lifetime.”
Henderson was granted parole in 2004 and has become one of the state’s most prominent advocates for ex-offenders, said the article.
By approving Amendment 2 in November, all felony convictions that occur after 2018 will be required to reach unanimous decision.
“Our goal is always justice, not guilty verdicts,” said Paul Connick Jr., Jefferson Parish district attorney. “I don’t anticipate any substantial difference in jury verdicts in Jefferson Parish with the passage of Amendment No.2.”
As of 2016, Louisiana led Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama combined in people serving life sentences, according to The Sentencing Project.
Criminal justice reform advocates hope the new law will lead to fewer convictions since jury deliberations would have to be more thoughtful, said the article.
“I’m hoping if they have to deliberate to a full consensus, they would have to be more mindful of having to discuss whether the state proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt” said Jee Pak, who heads the Innocence Project New Orleans, an organization that seeks to exonerate people who are wrongly convicted.
With the clear purpose of disenfranchising Blacks, the Jim Crow split-verdicts law was instated in Louisiana in the late 19th century, said the article. In 1974, the state raised its jury verdict from 9-3 to 10-2 for a conviction.
Over the years advocates have unsuccessfully sued the state about the split-jury law. In 2017, even the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a case.
The new law was supported by conservative and left-leaning groups, said the article.
Sen. J.P. Morrell (D-New Orleans) sponsored the legislation that resulted in the amendment.
“You, now, ladies and gentlemen have ended 138 years of Jim Crow,” Morrell said, at a campaign victory party. “You have fundamentally changed criminal justice in Louisiana”.