The Tulane Hullabaloo

New Louisiana Amendment should change past, future

Shea Dobson, Views Editor

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Ashley Chen | Views Layout Editor

This past November, the state of Louisiana passed the Unanimous Jury Verdict for Felony Trials Amendment, or Louisiana Amendment 2. Prior to the passing of Amendment 2, state trials in Louisiana only required 10 of the 12 jurors on a trial to vote guilty in order to convict the accused. With the passage of this law, all trials in Louisiana now require a unanimous vote from jurors in order to convict. While Amendment 2 puts an end to a wholly barbaric and un-American law, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of many including the thousands of prisoners who have been convicted in trials that were not unanimous.

It is important to note the reason that this now-extinct law came to exist in Louisiana in the late 19th century. After the United States ratified the 14th Amendment, all states were required to include black people on juries in order to more properly fulfill the 6th Amendment’s commitment to an “impartial jury”. At the 1898 Constitutional Convention, the State of Louisiana passed the aforementioned law, which was meant to make it easier to ignore black jurors.

The passage of Amendment 2 prevents any future damage from being caused by this archaic law. It does not, however, rectify the damage which has already been done to those who are currently serving prison sentences in criminal cases which were resolved in non-unanimous juries. A study of 993 Louisiana criminal cases by the New Orleans Advocate returned the findings that 40 percent of convictions in the state prior to the passing of Amendment 2 “came over the objections of one or two holdouts.” The law, embedded in Louisiana’s constitution, may have been dated, but its effects lasted long past its era. Up until Amendment 2 went into effect on January 1, the law was used to disproportionately incarcerate black people in Louisiana.

Until 2018, Louisiana had the highest incarceration rate in America for two decades and still holds the nation’s second-highest incarceration rate. Many people currently imprisoned in Louisiana were convicted in cases where either one or two jurors felt that there was not enough evidence to prove the defendants’ guilt. These were wrongful convictions which took place in a court that blatantly ignored our nation’s 6th Amendment, and for that reason, every person convicted in a non-unanimous jury trial ought to be granted a retrial by the state of Louisiana.

While many of the people who were convicted in these trials, perhaps most, were guilty of the crimes they were accused of, this does not change the fact that they were not granted a fair trial. The only way to right this wrong is to grant these prisoners an additional trial in which the voices of all 12 jurors will be taken into account. With such a high number of people incarcerated in Louisiana, the state ought to shed its reputation as the incarceration capital of the world. These retrials could potentially lead to a high number of people being exonerated, allowing them to return to society and de-crowd Louisiana’s prisons.

As it stands, there are thousands of people in Louisiana prisons who were locked up with the use of unscrupulous means. In order to defend the ideals of justice in American society, the state must fix the mistakes of its past by granting a retrial to each and every one of these people.

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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans
New Louisiana Amendment should change past, future