Bill calls for keeping jurors names secret

The American Press

Secret JuryAmerican Press composite

<p class="indent">Should the names of jurors in Louisiana criminal trials be public records? Legislation making its way through the current session would make it harder to determine how jurors voted in those trials.

<p class="indent">House Bill 699 by Rep. Joe Stagni, R-Kenner, has advocates for press freedom concerned because of the existing 10-2 split jury voting system in Louisiana. Another measure by Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, Senate Bill 243, is a proposed constitutional amendment that would let the state’s voters decide whether to require unanimous juries in felony trials.

<p class="indent">Stagni’s measure passed the House 94-0 and 28-0 in the Senate after being amended by the upper chamber. It must now be either concurred in or rejected by the House and sent to a conference committee to try and settle the differences.

<p class="indent">Jee Park, an attorney with the Innocence Project New Orleans, called the Stagni bill troublesome for the rights of defendants convicted by 10-2 juries.

<p class="indent">Park said, “One of the foundations of our system is that criminal trials are public trials where community members decide a defendant’s fate in the open. This will prevent defendants from uncovering racial bias and other misconduct that occurs during jury deliberations that may have led to convicting an innocent person.”

<p class="indent">Scott Sternberg, an attorney for the Louisiana Press Association and The Advocate, said reporters and citizens need to know how a juror voted, particularly with the state’s current 10-2 decisions.

<p class="indent">An analysis done by The Advocate found that Louisiana’s non-unanimous verdict law disadvantages black defendants more than white ones. It added the system also silences the voices of black jurors, who are more prone than white jurors to dissent from the majority.

<p class="indent">Morrell’s legislation cleared the Senate 27-10, one vote more than the 26 (two-thirds) required for proposed amendments. It has cleared two House committees with unanimous votes and is scheduled for House floor debate on Friday.

<p class="indent">If the Morrell bill passes the House, voters will make the final decision Nov. 6. Approval on that date wouldn’t make Stagni’s measure a major cause for concern because the jury decisions would have to be unanimous. However, as long as 10-2 jury decisions are allowed in criminal cases, it poses problems.

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