A Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would allow citizens to vote on whether Louisiana should require unanimous juries for felony convictions. Currently, only 10 of 12 jurists are needed to convict someone of a felony, making Louisiana and Oregon the only two states that do not require a unanimous jury. New Orleans Senator JP Morrell says our current laws aren’t making people any safer in one of the most crime ridden states in the nation.
“Having this non unanimous jury has not lead to more of the right people being in jail, having more of the right people stay in jail, or it being a deterrent to going to jail.”
Morrell argued that research done by the Innocence Project, a group that helps overturn wrongful convictions, proves unanimous juries help safeguard civil liberties.
“A large number of the instances in which they overturn a verdict, and find information to exonerate someone, comes from one of these non-unanimous jury convictions.”
But Executive Director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association Pete Adams spoke out against the legislation, saying neither politicians nor the public have enough quality research at hand to make a decision on the issue.
“There is very little reliable evidence that unanimous juries would be more reliable.”
Adams is concerned that stiffening conviction requirements would lead to more mistrials, which can be expensive for the state. He also says the U.S. Supreme Court has already weighed in and deemed non unanimous juries an adequate requirement for justice.
“Non-unanimous verdicts are clearly constitutional. The US Supreme Court rejected writs on that very issue last summer.”
The bill was passed on a five to one vote, with only Baton Rouge Senator Bodi White voting against.