Louisiana is one of only two states — Oregon is the other — that don’t require the unanimous agreement of 12 jurors to convict someone accused of a serious crime.
In the widespread discussion of a proposed change that would require unanimous juries in Louisiana for felony convictions, few critics have offered a plausible reason why voters shouldn’t approve the measure, which is on the Nov. 6 ballot as Amendment 2.
One objection to the much-needed reform seems very much shaped by the times. Since Americans are so divided these days, skeptics of Amendment 2 argue, how can we expect 12 people to agree on anything? Won’t requiring unanimity frustrate the workings of the court system?
Amendment 2, a proposed change to the state constitution that would require unanimous verdicts before the government takes away your freedom, …
The simple answer is that getting 12 jurors to agree on a person’s guilt is supposed to be challenging. That’s precisely why the agreement of 12 citizens from various walks of life to convict a fellow citizen of a felony bears such authority. That unanimity, often the product of extended deliberation, affirms the standard of guilt beyond reasonable doubt — exactly the kind of yardstick that we would want if we, or someone we love, were accused of serious wrongdoing.
This is a rigorous hurdle, but no one can plausibly claim that it’s impossibly high, since 48 other states put thousands of defendants behind bars each year while requiring the agreement of 12 jurors in each case to do so. To cynically suggest that Louisiana needs a lower bar for felony convictions is an insult to the wisdom and intelligence of our people.
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Yes, our culture is often divisive. But one remedy for that division is to grow and nurture the tasks of citizenship that join us in common purpose. For centuries, one of the most important citizen duties has been that of a juror in a criminal trial, an obligation made all the more solemn because of the unanimity most American courts require for felony convictions. In troubled times, we shouldn’t reject the ideal of unanimity in the jury room; we should embrace it as a sacred trust that calls us to shared ideals.
In such civic rituals, we often find more unity with our fellow Americans than we had expected. In fact, common ground isn’t extinct in political life, as evidenced by the broad bipartisan support for Amendment 2. Both the Republican and Democratic parties of Louisiana are backing the amendment, along with a number of the state’s top prosecutors and a vast array of conservative and liberal groups.
Amendment 2 is worthy of those endorsements. We urge voters to affirm that support by voting yes.