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Needing only 10 of 12 jurors to agree, Louisiana is one of only two states in which juries can convict by nonunanimous decisions (Oregon being the only other state).
Louisiana’s split jury law was adopted in 1898 during a notoriously racist constitutional convention. An excerpt from the Official Journal of the Proceedings of the Constitutional Convention of the State of Louisiana reads: “Our mission was, in the first place, to establish the supremacy of the white race in this State to the extent to which it could be legally and constitutionally done.”
The Advocate found jury voting records for 993 convictions over about six years. The decisions reached in 402 of those trials would have been invalid in 48 states. Roughly 40 percent of the people who are convicted after jury trials in Louisiana are convicted by nonunanimous juries. Of the nonunanimous convictions, we found 53 percent were 11-1 jury votes, while 47 percent were 10-2 jury votes.
The Advocate analysis also found that Louisiana’s aberrant majority-verdict law poses a disadvantage for black defendants. They are more likely than white defendants to be convicted by nonunanimous juries.
Blacks make up 32 percent of Louisiana's population, but 66 percent of state inmates, and 74 percent of Louisiana lifers.
But while defendants are disproportionately black, jurors are disproportionately white. The Advocate analyzed nine of the most trial-heavy parishes statewide. In all but one parish, black residents were underrepresented on juries. Only one of the nine parishes has as many black jurors as the population would dictate. Some have dramatically fewer.
In jury selection, state prosecutors reject, or “strike,” prospective black jurors at a dramatically higher rate than they do white jurors. In part, that’s because prosecutors see black jurors as more skeptical of the state. They are right. Black jurors are 2.5 times as likely as white jurors to dissent in split convictions. Louisiana is the most incarcerating state in the country, and the 10-2 jury rule is a factor.
Another factor in Louisiana’s high incarceration rate is its huge number of people serving life without parole (LWOP): 4,828. On a per capita basis, Louisiana has the most people serving LWOP, twice the rate of Mississippi. Louisiana also has five times as many inmates serving life without parole as Texas, even though Texas has six times as many people. Louisiana also has 1,224 inmates serving "virtual life" — sentences of 50 years or more. Those 6,052 inmates serving LWOP or "virtual life" make up about one in five state prisoners. The vast majority were convicted by a jury.
More than one-third of those convictions were nonunanimous, according to The Advocate’s analysis.
Louisiana is the only state in the United States where anyone is serving life on the word of a split jury. Louisiana has about 2,000 serving life based on a nonunanimous verdict.
Matthew Allen was 20 when he stared across a courtroom in Houma at the 12 men and women who would decide whether he would spend the rest of hi…