In order to examine how Louisiana’s unusual law allowing non-unanimous verdicts was impacting the criminal justice system in the state, The Advocate undertook a year-long investigation with the goal of compiling as comprehensive a data set as possible of trials, defendants and juries.
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…
The analysis shows that at every step, from the day jury summonses go out to the final proclamation of a verdict by the foreman, race is a crucial part of how the scales can be tilted against defendants in Louisiana. The Advocate’s ongoing series can be found at theadvocate.com/tiltingthescales.
The Advocate is making the data used in the series available to anyone interested in further analyzing them.
The data are housed in two csv files, one with details on defendants, charges and the outcome of those charges, and the other with details on jurors in each case. The two sets of data can be joined on the trial_id fields.
Download data on charges.
Download data on jurors.
Download the data dictionary, which explains the fields used in the records.
If the data are used for any analysis, please credit The Advocate.
If you have any questions about these data sets, please email Jeff Adelson at email@example.com.
The data and collection methodology
Data on criminal charges and juror selection in Louisiana were collected by reporters at The Advocate, with the intention of developing a data set that covered as many trials as possible. The data largely cover 2011-2016, though they include some records from outside that range.
Nearly all the data were collected from court minutes, other public records or media reports on trials, as almost no parishes in the state provide machine-readable data on trials or jurors.
Data collection focused on the busiest court districts in the state, eventually collecting substantial numbers of records from nine of the top 10 parishes by caseload. The tenth, Lafayette Parish, refused to comply with requests for information from The Advocate.
Additional data were gathered on trials in another 35 parishes, although in many cases those parishes could not provide detailed records on those trials.
The charges data set includes information on 3,028 trials involving 3,120 defendants and 5,394 individual charges. Of those, 2,931 cases occurred during 2011-2016, out of a total of 3,906 cases in those years reported to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
For the last 120 years, Louisiana has had an unusual and long-standing allowance for split jury verdicts in felony cases.
Given the focus of the investigation, special attention was paid to gathering information on whether verdicts were unanimous. While it is typical for attorneys to call for that information after a verdict is rendered, it is not always requested, and the results are not always recorded in court records.
Of the cases in the data set, it was possible to determine whether verdicts were unanimous on 993 convictions out of the 2,027 cases that ended with at least one guilty verdict from a jury. Those cases cover half of the state’s 64 parishes, though they are heavily weighted toward the large parishes of Orleans, Jefferson, St. Tammany, East Baton Rouge and Caddo. Collectively, those parishes are responsible for about 68 percent of the convictions in the state and roughly 69 percent of the data on jury unanimity in the data set.
Once basic information about the trials was entered into the data set, efforts were made to gather information on jury selection in as many of those cases as possible. The records kept about the jury selection process vary from parish to parish, and in some cases from judge to judge, which limited the ability to get a full accounting of the process.
The jurors data set includes information on 41,303 potential jurors who were called to a venire, when attorneys from both sides determine if they will sit on a jury. Information was recorded on whether the potential juror was picked to serve on the jury, was eliminated from service by an attorney on one side or the other, or if there was some other outcome.
Personally identifying information about the jurors other than their race and sex has been excluded from the data sets The Advocate is making public.
Information about jurors' race and sex was taken from court records where available and gathered from voter registration records or other databases when it was not.
The right of a defendant to be judged by “a jury of one’s peers” is a bedrock concept in American justice, dating to ancient English common law.
That process yielded information on 939 trials with 10,995 jurors, a data set that significantly overlaps the trials in which the unanimity, or lack of it, of verdicts is known.
The data cover parishes that represent all geographic regions, demographic mixes and urbanization patterns found in the state.
The process of collecting data on jurors and potential jurors focused on 12-member juries, as opposed to the six-member panels that can decide on less serious offenses but need a unanimous vote to convict.
In a small number of cases, full information was not available about the jurors who served on a case or the people who were questioned during a venire.
In other cases, the process was halted because of a plea deal or a mistrial during jury selection. Those cases are included in this data set for the sake of completeness, though it is recommended they be excluded for analysis.
A final round of data collection involved seeking information on the racial breakdown of the juror votes when verdicts were not unanimous. That information was available for only 109 cases involving 157 verdicts. Almost half of those cases were in East Baton Rouge, where the Clerk of Court’s Office assisted in tallying the votes.