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Louisiana Buries Jim Crow Jury Rule, Verdicts Must Be Unanimous

Nov. 7, 2018, 2:44 PM

Non-unanimous jury verdicts are now a thing of the past in Louisiana criminal trials, after voters approved a ballot measure toppling the Jim Crow-era rule allowing them.

It was one of several significant criminal justice provisions that voters approved Nov. 6, including Florida’s decision to restore voting rights to felons who have served their sentences.

It’s a “great victory for the people of Louisiana and the cause of liberty in our state,” Ed Tarpley told Bloomberg Law after the Louisiana measure passed.

A conservative former district attorney in the state, Tarpley authored the state bar resolution that ultimately prompted the Legislature to take on the issue.

The successful bipartisan effort means Oregon is now the only state permitting split-verdicts.

The U.S. Constitution only requires unanimity in federal trials, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in challenges from those states in the early 1970s.

Louisiana previously allowed just 10 of 12 jurors to agree on guilt. That was rooted in late-19th century efforts to enshrine white supremacy in the state constitution, advocates for the ballot amendment said.

By design, non-unanimous verdicts made it easier to snatch back the liberty of newly freed slaves by way of the state’s convict-leasing regime.

Over 40 percent of convicted criminals who were recently exonerated in Louisiana were convicted by split juries, according to the Unanimous Jury Coalition, which backed the amendment.

Tarpley said he was motivated to reform the law after reading a book in 2015 that traced its racist roots.

The amendment applies to offenses committed on or after Jan. 1 2019. It doesn’t apply retroactively.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jordan S. Rubin in Washington at jrubin@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com