Update: Louisiana to Consider Requiring Unanimous Juries for Convictions

This blog is a follow-up to our previous post on state laws requiring unanimous jury verdicts to convict in criminal cases. 

In both Oregon and Louisiana, juries can convict most felony defendants with a 10-2 vote.  All other states require unanimous jury decisions in felony cases — as does the federal system, including federal courts in Louisiana and Oregon.

Change may be coming to Louisiana as the state legislature passed a bill to amend the state’s Constitution to require jury unanimity in all felony cases with 12-person juries. Six-person juries, which try lower-level crimes, are already required to be unanimous.

State voters will be asked on Nov. 6 whether they support requiring unanimous verdicts in all felony trials for crimes committed on or after Jan. 1, 2019.

As we’ve explored previously, the non-unanimous jury laws in both Louisiana and Oregon were likely born out of racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitic sentiments which continue to exist today.

Split juries perpetuate the racial discrimination that exists at every stage of the jury process. In a series published by the New Orleans Advocate, it was found that across Louisiana, blacks are less likely than whites to be included in jury pools and prosecutors disproportionately strike them believing they will most likely vote for acquittal.  Even if they do end up on a jury, the split-jury rule makes it more likely that their votes won’t count.

These built-in biases lead to racial disparities in prosecutions, convictions and incarceration.

Race aside; research shows that non-unanimous juries are actually less careful in their deliberations, which increases the risk of wrongful convictions.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly declined to require unanimous juries for states. In a pair of 1972 decisions, the Supreme Court held that states are not required to insist on jury unanimity, even though the Sixth Amendment requires it for federal trials. The ruling has been challenged repeatedly in the years since, but the justices have declined to review it, most recently in October.

We’ll continue to monitor the activities in Louisiana as they take steps to modernize their laws to ensure equality in the justice system.

Nathan Green