Criminal court judges in New Orleans put all jury trials on hold until at least March amid allegations that the court has been illegally excluding people with felony convictions from serving on juries for the last year and half, reports The Lens. In addition to delaying many criminal trials that were set for the next five weeks, the decision is likely to bolster concerns over the legitimacy of dozens of jury trials in New Orleans dating back to August 2021. Chief Judge Robin Pittman informed Emily Posner of Voice of the Experienced (VOTE), that jury venires — the legal term for the panel from which jurors are drawn — would be “deferred for the remainder of January 2023 and February of 2023.” VOTE, whose membership consists primarily of former prisoners, raised concerns about the summons process in a letter to criminal court judges this month.
“What the court did today was recognize an oversight,” said Norris Henderson of VOTE. “It’s not about who’s right, but what’s right, and they need to get these juries right so people can get truly fair trials for once in the state of Louisiana.” Last week, the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal halted the attempted murder trial of Samuel Preston midway through jury selection and ordered Judge, Rhonda Goode-Douglass to hold a hearing on whether or not the court has been using an outdated summons process in violation of state law. In 2021, the Louisiana legislature changed the law to allow people with felony convictions to serve on juries as long as they have been off of probation or parole for five years, and are not under indictment. Prior to that, no one with any past felony conviction was able to serve on a jury. The new law was signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards, and went into effect on August 1, 2021. In another case from Orleans Parish criminal court, Michael Shorts, who was found guilty of second degree murder last July, challenged his conviction based in part on the same allegations that his jury was not summoned in accordance with the recent change to state law.