A constitutional amendment requiring unanimous jury verdicts for felony convictions passed the senate by 2 votes after impassioned arguments from supporters. Baton Rouge Senator Dan Claitor says requiring unanimous verdicts protects citizens from government overreach.
“Do we trust the government? We don’t! And the last thing that stands between us and our government when it really, really goes bad, is a jury of your peers.”
Currently only 10 of 12 jurists are needed for many criminal convictions in Louisiana, one of only two states that don’t require unanimous verdicts.
New Orleans Senator JP Morrell, the bill’s sponsor, says unanimous verdicts were a foundational part of the American justice system.
“When Madison and Adams were drafting the bill of rights, it was their assumption that it would be unanimous juries.”
Non-unanimous jury verdicts were first enshrined in law in Louisiana during the post reconstruction era. Morrell says it’s a relic of the state’s racist past.
“The origin of having non unanimous juries was to dilute the ability of African Americans to have a jury of their peers.”
The constitutional amendment needed a two-thirds vote to pass and it did on a 27-10 vote, and is headed to the House. It will need voter approval as well.