Unanimous Is Not Enough
Under the leadership of Louisiana United International (LUI), the Unanimous Is Not Enough campaign is the collaborative effort of civil rights, faith-based and community organizations, activists, as well as other stakeholders, all dedicated to correcting the unintended injustice of Louisiana’s recently enacted unanimous jury verdict law.
To attain redress for the estimated 8000 plus, citizens incarcerated in Louisiana prisons whose convictions were not grandfathered into the state’s 2018 change to its constitution. The new law requires a unanimous jury verdict to obtain a felony conviction, however, the law applies only to crimes committed after January 1, 2019. It does not grant justice to individuals convicted prior to 2019.
While, Louisiana’s 2018 constitutional amendment requiring a unanimous verdict to obtain a felony conviction goes a long way in addressing the future racial and social inequities of the state’s criminal justice system; the amendment does nothing to give relief to the more than 8000 plus poor and minority individuals who were convicted and are still incarcerated under the old split-jury rules.
It is our belief the new law intentionally failed to include prisoners convicted prior to 2019 by a split jury, in order to prevent:
• Overburdening Louisiana’s criminal court system with the large number of reviews and re-trials, grandfathering those cases would mandate.
• Overburdening the finances of Louisiana’s Criminal Court System, by incurring the costs associated with the review and re-trial of all 8000 plus cases
• Infringing on the revenue generated each year by the labor of those 8000+ citizens unjustly convicted under the split verdict rules
According to Thomas Aiello, Associate Professor of History and African American studies at Valdosta State University in Georgia, and author of Jim Crow’s Last Stand: Non-unanimous Criminal Jury Verdicts in Louisiana.
From 1880 until 1973 the state of Louisiana only required a jury verdict of 9-3 for felony conviction instead of the unanimous 12 votes traditionally required by U.S. juries.
After the Civil War - and the Reconstruction period that followed, as southern states were required to rebuild their governments to include newly freed Blacks; white southern Democrats - known as “Redeemers” - were working to do the opposite.
After Reconstruction, the Redeemers re-imposed white control over the system by creating practices such as the system known as “convict leasing”.
The Redeemers realized that the exception clause to the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution explicitly enslaved incarcerated individuals.
All the Redeemers would have to do is to figure out a way to increase the state’s prison population by filling the prison system with newly freed Blacks and they would once again have a huge pool of free labor. Literally, creating a distinction without a difference.
The convict lease system allowed the state to rent out its prisoners to people or companies who needed labor. “The goal of course was to create enough free labor, so that the railroads, plantation owners and other groups would once again have access to free labor.
The only way to make the practice work, was to make sure that you have enough convicts.” Out of that system came Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury rule.
One of the ways to make sure that the state could get more convictions is to lower the jury requirement. So, in 1880, the state legislature said juries no longer needed to reach a unanimous decision for a felony conviction. The new burden would be 9 to 3 in favor of conviction.
In 1894, Louisiana lawmakers passed a new jury selection law for Orleans Parish that allowed local commissioners leeway in selecting jurors, resulting in fewer black jurors.
In 1898, Louisiana convention delegates met to a craft new state constitution effectively ridding blacks from voter rolls. They also ratified 9-3 verdicts in serious felony trials.
1966: the Federal Appeals Court tossed Orleans Parish jury selection method in which clerks avoided picking manual laborers and daily wage earners, finding it systematically kept blacks off jury venires.
In the 1972 case of Apodaca v. Oregon, 406 U.S. 404 (1972), the United States Supreme Court held that: State juries may convict a defendant by less than unanimity even though federal law required that federal juries must reach criminal verdicts unanimously.
The four-justice plurality opinion of the court, written by Justice White, affirmed the judgment of the Oregon Court of Appeals, and held that there was no constitutional right to a unanimous verdict. Thus, Oregon’s law did not violate due process.
At the Louisiana Constitutional Convention of 1973, the delegates, fearing that Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury verdict law was vulnerable to being deemed unconstitutional due to its racial origins: Delegates voted to amend the rule to make the requirement 10 to 2. The logic being, the new rule was no longer based on the Redeemers plot but was now based on the Supreme Court’s: Apodaca v. Oregon ruling. Once again, a distinction without a difference.
The New Law: On November 6, 2018 the citizens of the State of Louisiana voted to approve a measure to amend the constitution to state:
Jury Trial in Criminal Cases. A criminal case in which the punishment may be capital shall be tried before a jury of twelve persons, all of whom must concur to render a verdict.
A case for an offense committed prior to January 1, 2019, in which the punishment is necessarily confinement at hard labor shall be tried before a jury of twelve persons, ten of whom must concur to render a verdict.
A case for an offense committed on or after January 1, 2019, in which the punishment is necessarily confinement at hard labor shall be tried before a jury of twelve persons, all of whom must concur to render a verdict.
A case in which the punishment may be confinement at hard labor or confinement without hard labor for more than six months shall be tried before a jury of six persons, all of whom must concur to render a verdict.
The accused shall have a right to full voir dire examination of prospective jurors and to challenge jurors peremptorily. The number of challenges shall be fixed by law. Except in capital cases, a defendant may knowingly and intelligently waive his right to a trial by jury but no later than forty-five days prior to the trial date and the waiver shall be irrevocable.
While the intent of the 2018 law is clearly to address a big part of the racial inequities in the administration of the Louisiana criminal justice system, it offers no justice for current victims of the old system.
Since 9/3 and 10/2 were both rooted in a state sanctioned plan that was originally written to create a post-civil war pool of hybrid slave labor by incarcerating Black people in mass numbers.
This was accomplished by effectively implementing laws that kept Louisiana’s Black citizens from voting and sitting on Juries
Subsequent changes to the law can in no way obfuscate the original intent of Louisiana’s split jury verdict laws. Citizens convicted and incarcerated by a split verdict are modern-day victims of the original “Redeemer’s” plan to enslave Louisiana’s Black people.
The policy cannot be racist on Jan 1, 2019 but not the previous 139 years of its existence?
This means: All citizens convicted and incarcerated in Louisiana, on a verdict of 9/3 or 10/2, are entitled to immediate release, or at the very least; have their convictions overturned and their cases retried
New Abolitionist Movement, Betty Davis - NY
Black Autonomy Network Community Organization, Rev. Edward Pinkney - MI
Lynne Stewart Committee, Ralph Poynter - NY
Black Is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations
African People’s Socialist Party, Chairman Omali Yeshitela - FL
Keep 28 Campaign, International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, Kalambayi Andenet – MO
New York State Assemblyman, Charles Barron
Patrice Lumumba Coalition, Luwezi Kinshasa – London, UK
Lloyd Kelly, H.O.M.E.S Inc Director - LA
Lisa Davis, Activist - NJ
New Afrikan Independence Party, Khalid Raheem - PA
National Judicial Conduct and Disability Law Project, Inc. - GA