DeRosier catches flak for opinion on split verdicts

Some on committee peeved by ‘is what it is’ comment

BATON ROUGE — A House committee on Wednesday sent to the full House a Senate bill that would do away with 10-2 jury verdicts in felony cases in Louisiana — but not before some of its members said they were “utterly offended” by comments made by Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier.

DeRosier spoke in opposition to Senate Bill 243, by Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, during the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee’s hearing on the measure. It and an accompanying proposed state constitutional amendment have cleared the Senate, and full House debate is their last major legislative hurdle. The state’s voters will have the final word.

{{tncms-inline content=”<p class="p1"><strong>‘I hope the people in your parish know what you said. I plan to make sure they hear what you said.’</strong></p> <p class="p3"><strong>Rep. Ted James</strong></p> <p class="p4">D-Baton Rouge responding to comments by Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier on the 10-2 jury system</p>” id=”e8f4cae1-3201-4dc5-9814-50c0e4bf0fe1″ style-type=”quote” title=”Pull Quote” type=”relcontent”}}

Only two states allow split verdicts in felony cases, but Oregon requires unanimous juries in murder trials. The Advocate during an investigation found that 10-2 juries continue to disadvantage black defendants more than whites, while diminishing the voices of black jurors.

Slavery was the way the 10-2 rule came into being, DeRosier said, but added it hasn’t been changed by the state’s last two constitutional conventions.

“What is the data to prove that 10 of 12 doesn’t work?” DeRosier said.

“I’ve heard a lot about this being a vestige of slavery,” he said. “I’m not proud of that, and I have no reason to doubt it. But it is what it is.”

DeRosier said that when lawmakers punch their green lights to vote on the bill they should ask themselves if they are doing it because 10-2 juries started with slavery or because it’s best for the justice system.

Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, said he was utterly offended by DeRosier’s comment that the 10-2 system was rooted in slavery and “is what it is.”

“I hope the people in your parish know what you said,” James told DeRosier. “I plan to make sure they hear what you said.”

Reps. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge; Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans; and Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, said they agreed with James about DeRosier’s comments. They also objected to statements made by Sabine Parish District Attorney Don Burkett, who also opposed Morrell’s bill.

The Louisiana District Attorneys Association took no position on the bill, but some of its members are opposed to the change.

Burkett later said, “If I offended anybody, I apologize.”

When contacted after the meeting, DeRosier said it was unfair for James to try to make this a racist issue when it isn’t one. However, he said 10-2 juries are a vestige of slavery.

“Nobody with any sense can deny that’s true,” he said. “The real issue is whether unanimous juries are more reliable than 10 of 12.”

DeRosier said James is not a friend of law enforcement. He added that Morrell told him after the meeting that he knew DeRosier’s heart is in the right place.

Ed Tarpley, a former Grant Parish district attorney, spoke in support of the bill, calling unanimous juries a precious right, saying, “The jury stands between the people and the government.” He said the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was a firm believer in unanimous juries.

Morrell, while closing on his bill, said he appreciated James’ comment and “has more faith in Louisiana prosecutors than DeRosier has.” He said DeRosier and Burkett “had to go to Europe to get examples of why not to do this.”

The country was founded on unanimous juries, Morrell said, and this is an opportunity to make history.

Some opposition was expected from the committee, but after the criticisms leveled against DeRosier and Burkett, it was reported favorably without objection.

‘I hope the people in your parish know what you said. I plan to make sure they hear what you said.’

Rep. Ted James

D-Baton Rouge responding to comments by Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier on the 10-2 jury system

      2d1d0186-e905-11e8-b7e4-c78393f343292018-11-15T18:35:00ZMistletoe and Moss LogoSpecial to the American Press

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