Unanimous jury verdict has our vote
The American Press supports proposed constitutional Amendment No. 2 on the Nov. 6 ballot. It would eliminate current 10-2 decisions and require all 12 jurors to reach a unanimous verdict in non-capital felony trials on or after Jan. 1, 2019.
Louisiana and Oregon are the only of two states that don’t require unanimous juries in those cases. The history behind 10-2 decisions is linked to racially-charged attitudes that the state should no longer be supporting.
The state had unanimous jury trials, starting in the early 1800s. However, it was changed during the post-Reconstruction era in the 1880s to have nine jurors agree on a verdict, before being increased to 10 jurors during the 1973 constitutional convention.
Taking away the unanimous jury law made it easier to convict African Americans under Jim Crow-Era laws. However, other southern states didn’t follow suit. For many years, Louisiana has been out of step with the rest of the nation.
Another issue with only requiring 10 jurors to agree involves cases where people are jailed for crimes they didn’t commit. When it comes to sending someone to jail for life, or execution, the entire jury needs to come to a consensus on whether that person is guilty. It’s difficult to say a defendant is convicted beyond a reasonable doubt if there are jurors who are doubtful.
The Public Affairs Research Council’s report on the proposed amendments states that under current law a prosecutor “might over-charge a defendant in order to qualify for a 12-person jury needing 10 votes.” That’s because unanimous decisions are required for juries of six.
Opponents of the amendment argue that even though they don’t agree with the racial history, having the 10-juror requirement leads to fewer mistrials and helps keep the legal system efficient. PAR’s report stated that other countries like England, Scotland, Brazil and others don’t require unanimous juries.
Despite those arguments, it’s time Louisiana updated its law and joined the other 48 states that require unanimous jury verdicts. Amendment No. 2 has drawn widespread support from many organizations and individuals.
When going to the polls on Nov. 6, the American Press urges its readers to vote “yes” for constitutional Amendment 2. It’s long past time to join the rest of the nation in requiring unanimous juries.
This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Crystal Stevenson, John Guidroz, Jim Beam and Mike Jones.