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Louisiana Court Refuses to Budge on Non-Unanimous Verdicts

Four years after Louisiana voters overwhelmingly rejected the state's Jim Crow-era practice of allowing criminal convictions by non-unanimous juries, and two years after the nation's highest court declared the practice unconstitutional, the Louisiana Supreme Court refused to make the ban retroactive, the Times-Picayune reports. The 5-2 ruling means as many as 1,500 inmates convicted by divided juries are denied new trials. In his majority opinion, Justice Scott Crichton wrote that it's up to the legislature to make the unanimous-jury rule retroactive or to the governor to grant clemency. "We decline to act as a super-legislature by issuing a broader retroactivity approach than that approved by the voters of Louisiana," Crichton wrote.

The 2018 ballot initiative was prospective only, from 2019 forward, a result of a compromise advocates made to put it to a vote. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling likewise rejected requests to make its ruling retroactive, instructing Louisiana and Oregon, the states that had such rules, to take that step "if they choose." One Louisiana justice, James Genovese, dissented in part, arguing the court should have granted new trials to Black defendants who can prove that a Black juror voted against their conviction. The other dissenter, Justice Piper Griffin, the court's only Black member, wrote, "Injustices from Louisiana's past call for a remedy from this Court. The racially discriminatory nature of convictions secured by non-unanimous verdicts does not change over time. Such convictions were racially discriminatory in 1898. They were racially discriminatory in 1975. They remain racially discriminatory today." While awaiting the final state court decision that came Friday, some district attorneys have begun to review older split jury verdicts case by case. A legislative task force was set up to develop "plausible remedies for miscarriages of justice that are determined to have resulted from non-unanimous jury verdicts." But the group met once and disbanded.


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