In Louisiana, A New Voter-Approved Initiative Requires Unanimous Juries in Criminal Trials
Last weekend we turned our clocks back one hour. We moved back in time for a brief moment. Today, in Louisiana, we have moved our “clocks” forward to a time closer to achieving reforms in our criminal justice system, with Louisiana voters resoundingly passing an initiative requiring unanimous juries for criminal trials.
John Adams, founding father of the United States, wrote, “It’s the unanimity of the Jury that preserves the rights of mankind.” The same rights our State Constitution aims to protect – life, liberty and property.
The beginning to the preamble to the Louisiana State Constitution reads, “We, the people of Louisiana, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political, economic, and religious liberties we enjoy, and desiring to protect individual rights to life, liberty, and property; afford opportunity for the fullest development of the individual; assure equality of rights”
There is a good reason why such a diverse group of organizations and people came together to change the split-jury rule. In 1880, over one-hundred and thirty-eighty years ago Louisiana Lawmakers passed the split-jury rule and would later in 1898 formally enter it into the Louisiana Constitution. Sadly, the split-jury rule may have been created out of fear on how formerly released slaves would vote on juries.
With the momentum of the 2017 JRI reforms, Senator J.P. Morrell of New Orleans introduced SB 243 challenging the split-jury rule in 2018. This bill eventually led to the issue being placed on the ballot as constitutional amendment #2.
On Tuesday, November 6, 2018, Louisiana voters reversed the split-jury rule (64% voting yes) and now Louisiana joins all other states except Oregon in requiring unanimous jury verdicts on all felony offenses. Unanimous jury verdicts should allow for more debate and discussion among jurors, allow for dissenting jurors voices to be heard, ensure due process and ensure that the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt has been met.
The people of Louisiana are a people who cherish our founding fathers’ vision “that all men are created equal.” Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are rights worth coming together as one for, to ensure they are available to all.