Tuesday you’ll have a chance to weigh in on whether or not the state should require unanimous jury verdicts in felony cases. It's amendment two on the ballot. The proposal has received widespread bipartisan support behind a message that former District Attorney Ed Tarpley says is clear.
“If one or two people on the jury still have doubt how you can say that they have been convicted beyond a reasonable doubt? You simply cannot, it’s illogical, it doesn’t make any sense, and that is why we need to change the law in Louisiana.”
But several current district attorneys have reservations about the change. Scott Perrilloux is the D-A that represents, Tangipahoa, Livingston and St. Helena Parishes and says the current standard of 10 of 12 jurors to agree on a guilty verdict is good and the proposed change would lead to more hung juries.
“I do think it will make it more difficult to obtain justice in a lot of cases. After a lengthy trial with a lot of work a lot of that will have to be done again.”
Supporters like Tarpley say the law is racist in nature and has a disproportionate effect on minority defendants who lose the ability to have a jury of their peers. Perrilloux says that’s not true, and that Apodaca vs. Oregon settled that question.
“The law has been cited as constitutional. The US Supreme Court has said that it has served and it is legal.”
But Tarpley says that 1972 4-1-4 decision is remarkably flawed in that it required unanimous juries in federal cases but allowed states to make their own call on it. He says the founders thought of it as vital for American justice.
“You go back to Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, and all of these men who wrote the bill of rights in the constitution knew and believed an understood that the juries must be unanimous.”
Oregon is the only other state that allows non-unanimous juries in felony cases.