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Split Juries Outlawed, Inmates In Those Cases Remain In Custody

The U.S. Supreme Court outlawed split-jury verdicts for people accused of serious crimes in the 2020 case Ramos v. Louisiana, righting a historical wrong propelled more than a century ago by white supremacy and xenophobic fervor. The decision applied only to open cases and convictions that were under appeal at the time of the ruling. The justices left it to Oregon and Louisiana to decide whether to apply the decision retroactively and give inmates a second chance. Today, the two states are on sharply different paths. In Oregon, the state Supreme Court said these cases must be given a new look, while in Louisiana, only a handful of prosecutors have agreed to revisit past convictions decided by split juries, what critics call "Jim Crow juries," NPR reports. The divide that has left hundreds of prisoners at the mercy of a two-tier judicial system that has disproportionately affected minorities. Each was convicted under an unconstitutional law that defense attorneys — and even some prosecutors — acknowledge may have sent innocent people to prison. Only some inmates will see their cases reconsidered.


This muddled legal landscape is fueling a deep sense of anxiety on each side of the debate, even as the biggest legal challenges surrounding non-unanimous convictions appear settled. Those who oppose revisiting old cases worry about retraumatizing victims and the added strain on prosecutors at a moment when violent crime is on the rise. Reform advocates say failure to act on behalf of people who were unconstitutionally convicted will only further erode faith in the justice system. "It doesn't go away until you address it," says Hardell Ward, an attorney with the Promise of Justice Initiative, a Louisiana-based nonprofit that has led the push to revisit non-unanimous jury convictions. "This is not something that can be swept under the rug; it's not something you can wait on." In each state, the implications for African Americans in particular have been profound. In 2018, an analysis by The Advocate newspaper in Louisiana found that 40% of trial convictions in the state came over the objection of at least one holdout. When the defendant was Black, that number rose to 43%. It fell to 33% for defendants who were white.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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