Louisiana’s Republican Party has done the right thing in endorsing a proposal to end the state’s practice of convicting defendants of serious crimes without a unanimous jury vote.
The proposal, which goes before voters on Nov. 6, got a big boost over the weekend when the state GOP’s Central Committee voted 78-17 to endorse it. We commend Republican leaders for helping to advance a key reform in the state’s criminal justice system, and we hope their support builds momentum for the proposal at the polls.
Louisiana and Oregon are the only two states that allow people to be convicted of felonies without a unanimous jury verdict, and Louisiana is the only state to allow such split verdicts in murder trials.
Louisiana’s 10-2 jury rule, which allows felony convictions if just 10 of 12 jurors agree, evolved from a change in state law during the Jim Crow era, when leaders feared that black jurors might upset the will of the white majority.
A yearlong Advocate review of recent felony court cases in Louisiana showed that the 10-2 rule disproportionately disadvantages black defendants.
But the bigger issue is that every defendant, regardless of race, should be convicted of a serious crime only if guilt can be determined without a reasonable doubt. Throughout America, that standard of certainty has typically relied on the unanimous agreement of 12 jurors.
As Andrew Bautch, executive director of the state GOP, noted in commenting on the party’s endorsement, this basic principle of liberty extends to the origins of the republic. He quoted Founding Father John Adams, who once said that it was “the unanimity of the jury that preserves the rights of mankind.”
Leaders of Louisiana’s Democratic Party are expected to endorse the ballot proposal later this summer.
Republicans and Democrats rarely agree on anything. We’re glad that on this basic issue of criminal justice, officials of both parties appear to be on the same page.
Voters should take note this fall and make the proposed reform into law.