The state of Louisiana got something right. The people of Louisiana got something right. The legislators of Louisiana got something right.
All of those statements are a known rarity for people from Louisiana, we know how futile progress or change can be in the state. Missteps are frequent and often times gigantic but not this time. The state of Louisiana made a statement- although, one it should have never had to make- by now requiring unanimous verdicts as opposed to our previous 10-2, leaving Oregon as the last state in the union to have the law.
The history of the now former law sees its roots in the Jim Crow era. Those same roots can be traced back to inherently racist ideas. When the law was being enacted in 1898, the reasoning was explicitly racist. The idea was to “perpetuate the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon race in Louisiana.”
Since that period and since that racist proclamation the state of Louisiana has kept the law, the impact has been skewed as well. According to the New Orleans Advocate, “The newspaper’s analysis found that 40 percent of trial convictions … came over the objections of one or two holdouts. When the defendant was black, the proportion went up to 43 percent, versus 33 percent for white defendants.”
This is of greater importance in a place like Louisiana where the incarceration rates are the highest in the U.S. and the world as a whole.
Louisiana, itself, is not wholly to blame for the situation at hand. Yes, the creation of the law is but the Supreme Court has upheld the law previously. The most famous cases coming in 1972, both Johnson v. Louisiana and Apodaca v. Oregon.
In Apodaca the court’s argument based itself around the necessity of “commonsense judgment” arguing that unanimity was not vital in that form of viewing. Frankly, though, the court got that one wrong. Commonsense is so if everyone agrees but that is not the case in non-unanimous decisions.
For Johnson the court made an even larger error deciding in five to four decision that non-unanimous jury verdicts do not violate the 14th amendment’s reasonable doubt clause. It seems, though, that putting anyone in jail should require the agreement of all parties. No human deserves to be imprisoned unless there is an undoubtful reason for such a thing and the court ruled against that, in my eyes.
Today, though, the few dissenters of what has become known as Amendment Two, as it was on the ballot, argue that it is for efficiency and for monetary purposes.
The argument centers around the idea that if you require unanimity there will be more hanging juries, therefore adding time and money to an already lengthy and expensive process. Dissenters are not necessarily wrong but their solution is. Not requiring unanimous verdicts lead to even lengthier and even more expensive appeal processes.
The dissenters were few and far between as people across the aisle in Louisiana understood the importance of ending the law.
The next step should be to let currently incarcerated individuals have a re-trial since they should have never been in jail in the first place.
The Supreme Court would benefit as well by officially changing their precedent on the issue so to slam the door on laws like this in the future.
Luckily for residents of Louisiana- although, not currently incarcerated Louisianians, we actually made the right decision that finally ended this disgusting relic of the past.