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2018 Election Preview: Amendment 2, Louisiana

Amendment 2 would require unanimous jury verdicts, as in 48 other states

Amendment 2 would require unanimous jury verdicts, as in 48 other states

The writers of Louisiana’s 1898 Constitution couldn’t outright ban African Americans from serving on a jury, but they circumvented that limitation by enabling juries to convict over the objections of holdouts. Today, Louisianans can be convicted of any felony (including murder) by non-unanimous juries; 10 out of 12 jurors need to convict. This has made trials likelier to end in a guilty verdict in Louisiana than elsewhere, which contributes to the state’s high incarceration rate and may increase the pressure defendants face to accept a plea deal.

Amendment 2, if adopted in November, would revise the Constitution and require unanimous jury verdicts for all felony convictions.

The measure enjoys an unusually broad array of support, including endorsements from both the Democratic and Republican parties. Its most prominent opponent is Attorney General Jeff Landry, who is preparing to challenge Governor John Bel Edwards in 2019. (Edwards supports the measure.) The Louisiana District Attorneys Association is staying neutral, and some of the state’s most prominent DAs have even endorsed it.

Louisiana’s non-unanimous juries have disproportionately harmed African Americans, as the New Orleans Advocate documented in a series of investigations this year. First, Black Louisianans are likelier to have been convicted over at least one holdout’s objections. Of the trials reviewed by the newspaper, 33 percent of those that ended in a white defendant’s conviction were non-unanimous compared to 43 percent that ended in a Black defendant’s conviction. Second, holdout jurors whose opinion is disregarded are likelier to be African Americans—and African Americans are underrepresented on juries to start with. “Maybe my life experience is a little different than some of the white people,” a Black juror told the Advocate after serving in a case in which a Black defendant was convicted of murder over the dissent of two Black holdouts.

Update: The “Yes” to Amendment 2 won on Nov. 6, 2018.