Louisianans to vote on unanimous jury amendment in November election

(Coleen Harry | WBTV)
Updated: Oct. 20, 2018 at 9:45 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Come Nov. 6, Louisiana voters will decide whether a unanimous jury ruling is needed in order to convict in criminal cases.

As one of only two states that still allow non-unanimous verdicts, the pending amendment has gained national attention.

LSU criminologist Peter Scharf said the amendment would “bring Louisiana up to 2018."

According to Sharf, Louisiana’s standard of guilt is inconsistent with the rest of the country. Oregon is the only other state that allows ten out of 12 jurors to convict a person of a felony.

“You go back to the constitutional standard of reasonable doubt in a criminal trial and, in fact, the [prosecution] has the burden of disapproving all hypotheses other than guilt," Scharf said. "If two people on a jury of 12 still have doubts, legal scholars, and I agree with them, say how do you get a verdict of guilty?”

According to Sharf, the concept comes from a time when laws unfairly targeted black people.

“In the 19th century, it was an effort to make sure African-Americans got put away no matter what the niceties of law were,” Scharf said. “How many people are in jail because of non-unanimous jury verdicts? This is a very powerful amendment."

State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, drafted the constitutional amendment, which has already been approved by the legislature and endorsed by both the democratic and republican parties in the state.

While opponents say allowing split jury decisions can make the legal process more efficient by preventing hung juries, Sharf says a non-unanimous jury encourages doubt and often lead to appeals, which can tie up the court system for just as long.

“The argument you have less capacity to punish and the paradoxical effect of leaving the law the way it is may mean more crime, not less, because the court system is so jammed with cases that could be resolved if we had a higher standard of proof,” Scharf said.

The Louisiana District Attorney’s Association and Attorney General Jeff Landry oppose the amendment. Landry argues the non-unanimous jury law has a “positive effect” on the criminal justice system in Louisiana and prevents someone from attempting to sway a jury. However, Landry is not fundraising or organizing official opposition to the proposed law, according to our partners at NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune.

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