Louisiana Amendment 2: Unanimous Jury Decisions

In forty-eight other states, and in Federal Court, a felony conviction requires the unanimous vote of twelve jurors. There are only 2 states (Oregon and Louisiana), that don’t require a unanimous jury. In Louisiana, a person can be convicted if 10 out of 12 jurors determine that an individual is guilty. This is a discriminatory law that silences African-American jurors and increases the risk of wrongful convictions. On November 6th, voters can change the law to require that jurors must reach a unanimous verdict in cases of felony convictions, by supporting Amendment 2: Unanimous Jury Verdict.

Louisiana’s Discriminatory Law Is a Tool of Oppression

In the state of Louisiana, for over 100 years, an individual could be convicted of a felony and sentenced to life in prison without a unanimous decision. Even when 1 or 2 jurors maintain that the defendant is innocent, Louisiana still permits a conviction. This law undermines a foundational right in the country’s criminal justice system: proof of someone’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Non-unanimous juries often have shorter deliberation periods, leading to rushed juror discussion. (Read this account of a dissenting juror in wrongly convicted murder trial). Non-unanimous jury verdicts are unreliable and harmful to people who are convicted. Over 40% of cases in Louisiana where people were later found to have been wrongly convicted were decided by non-unanimous jury verdicts. These verdicts silence dissenting jurors and invalidate their votes. Amendment 2 will eliminate this as an option, and require all jurors to agree on the verdict for felony charges.

The existing law is a tool of systematic oppression

The existing law is a tool of systematic oppression, and supports the prison-industrial complex. The law dates back to 1898, the post-Reconstruction era, when white male delegates gathered during the Louisiana Constitutional Convention and drafted laws designed to diminish the power of the African-American vote, and increase the prison population in order to use prisoners as free labor. The laws that they created are deeply ingrained with racism and malice towards communities of color, and should be removed from practice. More black people are convicted by a non-unanimous jury than white people, and at a higher rate; black jurors are twice as likely than white jurors to have their voices silenced by the ruling. This law has succeeded in creating the desired outcome it was written to achieve —  decreasing the power of black jurors and incarcerating more people to increase the profits of the prison industry.

In Louisiana, after a recent overhaul of criminal justice reform laws, the state’s prison population has fallen to the second-highest per capita in the country. In 2018, there was a 42% decrease in people incarcerated for non-violent, drug related offenses. There was a 9% decrease of individuals under mandatory community supervision (probation and/or parole). Amendment 2 will continue to reduce racial disparities in Louisiana’s criminal justice system. The measure will reduce the amount of wrongly convicted people sentenced and incarcerated based upon split decision verdicts.  

The Unanimous Jury Coalition that is working on this initiative is made up of a collective of organizations including the ACLU of Louisiana and the Innocence Project. The efforts to pass Amendment 2 are being managed across the state. It has broad bipartisan support, including from the Louisiana Republican Party, local civil rights organizations, and Americans for Prosperity.

What will Amendment 2 do for Louisiana?

Criminal justice reform in Louisiana has been a bipartisan effort. Last year, the Louisiana legislature passed a ten-bill series of criminal justice reform policies that aimed to reduce the prison population, invest funding into rehabilitation programs for both crime victims and the currently and formerly incarcerated, and reduce mandatory minimum sentences. SB 243, which proposed the constitutional amendment to end non-unanimous jury convictions, was introduced and passed by a margin of one vote in the state Senate, and by a landslide of 82-15 in the state House. Since constitutional amendments must be approved by the electorate, the final decision now rests with the voters of Louisiana.

What you can do

Local Indivisibles have joined with UJC to support Amendment 2 by organizing phone banks.

To find your local Indivisible group, visit https://indivisible.org/groups.

Sign up here to volunteer for a UJC phone bank event with Indivisible NOLA and spread the word.

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