“It is what it is,” remarked Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier this past April as he defended Louisiana’s noxious nonunanimous jury law to legislators. “It is what we will it to be” was the response from Louisiana voters as we rejected a Jim-Crow era practice that degrades the criminal justice system. Instead, voters used the ballots on Nov. 6 to end the use of nonunanimous juries in Louisiana once and for all.
More than 64 percent of Louisiana voters chose to put the unjust nonunanimous jury into history’s dustbin on Election Day. Amendment 2 received the majority vote in 61 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes (including 61 percent of Calcasieu Parish voters). In these hyperpartisan times, ensuring justice in our courtrooms seems to be the one thing Louisiana voters of all persuasions could agree upon, as support for Amendment 2 transcended party, race, geography and economic status.
Once implemented on Jan. 1, unanimous juries will immediately improve justice in Louisiana. Our excessive rate of wrongful convictions will go down, as should our incarceration rate, the world’s highest until late last spring. Reasonable doubt will be restored and trust in our public institutions will improve.
On its own, this is a monumental victory. Taken in context, this is another resounding confirmation that the public trusts Louisiana’s recent criminal justice reforms and is willing to do more.
In 2017, opponents of reform attempted to scare the public away from the recommendations of the Justice Reinvestment Task Force. The criticism was unwarranted. In just the first year, the ensuing legislation saved the state nearly $14 million, dropped our incarceration rate, and improved public safety.
In 2018, opponents tried to roll back those reforms. Legislators wisely rejected fear and scare tactics and preserved the Justice Reinvestment reforms, while also extending voting rights to the formerly incarcerated and offering the public the chance to vote on the unanimous jury.
Louisiana has made tremendous strides in the past two years to make our state safer and build integrity into our criminal justice system. On Election Day, Louisiana voters had the chance to weigh in and our voices were clear: Louisianans are not merely suggesting that the criminal justice system be reformed, we are demanding it. It is up to our elected leaders to respond to this demand and continue moving Louisiana forward.
field director, Southern Poverty Law Center