Louisiana Voters May Dump Rule Allowing Convictions Without Unanimous Verdicts

End of a Jim Crow-era law a potential win for jury nullification.


Jury picture
Everett Collection Inc. / Dreamstime.com

Louisiana is infamous for its incredibly high incarceration rate. It is sometimes derisively described as "the world's prison capital," though technically Oklahoma stole its crown this summer.

One of the many ways that Louisiana manages to put so many people behind bars is that it does not require a unanimous jury verdict to convict defendants for felonies. Oregon is the only other state with such rules, and Lenore Skenazy just highlighted how Oregon's rules helped convict an innocent man.

But this fall a referendum may spell the end of the practice in Louisiana. Current law allows a person to be convicted by a jury even when one or two jurors believe he or she is not guilty. Under Amendment 2, Louisiana's constitution would be changed to require a unanimous verdict for anybody charged with felonies.

The state's deviation from typical jury practices dates to the Jim Crow era, the Los Angeles Times notes. It was implemented in 1880 after the passage of the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed former slaves the right to vote and serve on juries. It was designed to make it harder for black jurors to stop the courts from railroading black defendants.

The result? From 2011 to 2016, about 40 percent of convictions in Louisiana had one or two holdouts on the jury. And black defendants were 30 percent more likely than white defendants to be convicted in these cases.

Beyond the racial animus that put the rule into place, keep in mind how it undercuts the possibility of jury nullification. That's when a juror expresses his or her objection to an oppressive law (or an oppressive application of a law) by refusing to convict a defendant on principle. No less than the executive director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association is using the possibility of nullification as a reason to oppose any changes. The Advocate reports:

"In today's society, getting 80 percent of people in any group to agree on any topic is a phenomenal task," [Pete Adams] said. "Everyone's in their corner. More so than ever, people take their agendas into the courtroom. You're inviting jury nullification."

The amendment does, however, have the support of both the state's Democratic governor and the state's Republican Party. Both the state's House and Senate voted firmly in favor of putting the amendment on the ballot for voters to consider. And while a prosecutors' group may oppose the referendum, so far, according to Ballotpedia, no committees have officially registered to campaign against it. After November, Oregon may be left on its own as the only state that allows for non-unanimous felony convictions.

NEXT: What We Talk About When We Talk About Socialism

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Oregon is the only other state with such rules…

    Really, Louisiana, do you want to be named in the same breath as a state full of people who until recently didn’t know how to pump their own gasoline?

    1. I’ve recently been told that making fun of them for that bit of ineptitude is quite triggering, and so off limits.


    3. Actually, it’s only at RETAIL establishments that they can’t pump gas. So, heh, guess your house of cards is falling apart.

      1. Look, I don’t know what bootleg gas-trading underground back market shadow economy petrol speakeasies they have going there in Oregon where everyone was fueling up their own tanks. All I know is Oregonians were freaking way out last year when they learned they might have to move to New Jerksey to keep from having transients attack them while they haplessly try to work the gasoline pumping machinery at the local BP station.

  2. Yeah, Louisiana prosecutors, your state and Oregon are in the right, and the other 48 states plus the federal government are all out of step.

    1. Let’s not even jokingly fall into using that damned populist fallacy.

      1. I beg your pardon, but if a state does an experiment in criminal justice which treats the accused even worse than most other states, that’s an indication that the idea may be ill-conceived.

        1. And I’m saying that’s the argument to make. That we have ample evidence that this is a better way to achieve dignity for the accused.

          I just hate the populist fallacy. It’s all Kirkland ever makes, and it’s one of the most pervasive I see. Not just in politics, but in everyday life.

  3. Jesus I lived in Louisiana for 13 years and moved to OK 14 years ago. Talk about out of the frying pan and into the fire.

    1. I was born and raised in Louisiana and I never want to live in that shithole again.

      1. My wife and I have been considering a relocation, and Louisiana wasn’t on our list, but it’s funny how either the weather, the price, or the shitty people rules out moving to pretty much anywhere in the US for us.

          1. She lived in Flagstaff previously. She has ruled out Tucson, but not Arizona.

            Should I research it more and make the case? I know she’d probably go back to Flagstaff at least, but something about Tucson she doesn’t like.

            1. I mean, Phoenix is a huge metro if Arizona is a possibility. You can find work, and you can find housing that is reasonable.

              If she doesn’t like Tucson, then I don’t know. It’s my home though so I advocate for it constantly.

      2. I do miss the food. And drive thru daiquiri huts. And go cups. ;>)

        1. True, the alcohol laws are much better than other places. I was just sick of most things being run down and generally shitty while the taxes are still relatively high. That and the fucking rednecks. There were just too damned many (depending on where you are). Maybe I was exaggerating when I said I never want to live there ever again. There are plenty of nice places in La, I guess. I do miss good boudin though. And catfish poboys. And crawfish boils. Ok, I miss all the food.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.