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ABA policy in action: Louisiana votes to require unanimous juries in felony cases

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Jury

The bells of freedom are ringing in Louisiana. Yesterday, the citizens of Louisiana voted to end the practice of non-unanimous juries in felony cases. Amendment 2 requires a unanimous verdict of a 12-member jury for felony convictions. Current law allows a conviction even though two of 12 jurors believe there is reasonable doubt of a defendant’s guilt.

At the 2018 ABA Annual Meeting the House of Delegates passed Resolution 100B that “urges Louisiana and Oregon to require unanimous juries to determine guilt in felony criminal cases and reject the use of non-unanimous juries where currently allowed in felony cases.”

As a student at Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, I have had the pleasure of hearing Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell speak on her research that paved the way for House Resolution 100B and Amendment 2.

Here is some perspective of the current climate in Louisiana: The rate of incarceration in Louisiana far exceeds that of most other states and the United States, second only to Oklahoma. Louisiana is number two in the rate of wrongful convictions and the state’s non-unanimous jury system has played a large role.

Political activists have campaigned for the enactment of Amendment 2 as a way to finally end the black codes and Jim Crow laws of yesterday. There are racially discriminatory undertones to the use of non-unanimous juries in both Louisiana and Oregon. In Louisiana, the law was intended to achieve a system of white supremacy through quick convictions of African-Americans to preserve free labor and to ensure African-Americans would not be able to serve on juries. In Oregon, their law was a result of anti-Jewish and migrant sentiments.

Because of Louisiana’s high rate of incarceration and the disproportionate incarceration of African American’s, citizens here feel as if this is the last hurdle they must overcome to see real change. In Louisiana, African-Americans make up only 33 percent of the state population but 66 percent of the prison population.

At Southern University Law Center, two core values are instilled in us. The first is “seriousness of purpose” and the second is that we are already “lawyer leaders.” So, when we see something in our world that is unjust we must act.

The ABA provides its members, including law students, with the opportunity to get involved in the issues of the day and to be the change we want to see in the world. I was humbled by the experience of being in the room when the House of Delegates passed resolution 100B with overwhelming support. I am grateful to be a Louisiana law student experiencing this exercise of freedom that is Amendment 2. I am a proud member of the American Bar Association.

The work that our organization does affects people’s lives whether its adopting social justice policies, rushing to airports to ensure the rights of Muslims banned from re-entering the country, gathering attorneys to represent separated children and families, lobbying Congress on ABA Day, or urging the Senate Judiciary Committee to investigate allegations of sexual assault before confirming a nominee.

Our work is important and it starts now. It is never too early to get involved with issues that are important to you. With that said, I encourage you all to read Resolution 100B and to celebrate with the citizens of Louisiana as the bells of freedom are ringing on the bayou.

This piece is written in appreciation of Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell’s dedication and commitment to the citizens of Louisiana and a more just judicial system. Thank you!

Ashley N. Baker Ashley N. Baker is Delegate of Communications, Publications, and Outreach for the ABA Law Student Division. She is also a 2L at Southern University Law Center where she holds memberships with the Journal of Race, Gender, and Poverty, the Board of Student Advisors, and The Public Defender Newspaper.