Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Louisiana looks to shed vestige of Jim Crow

In 48 states it takes a unanimous vote from a jury to convict a person accused of committing a criminal act. And, if you think about it, that makes sense given the burden of proof placed upon the state in a criminal trial. Oregon is the only other state that does not require a unanimous verdict -- unless the defendant is charged with murder.

Today in Louisiana, voters will be asked to decide if Louisiana wishes to join the vast majority of states in requiring a unanimous jury vote for a conviction; or if the Pelican State wishes to preserve one of the last overt tools of the Jim Crow era. Louisiana is the only state in which a defendant can be sentenced to life in prison on less than a unanimous verdict.

The so-called "split jury" was written into the Louisiana constitution in 1898 when a constitutional convention was called after the end of Reconstruction.
"It put into place a number of measures in order to — this is a quote from the convention itself — 'to maintain the supremacy of the white race.'"
-- Andrea Armstrong, Professor, Loyola University
The driving force behind the provision was to preserve a system of unpaid labor for white landowners. At the time of the convention, Louisiana had a policy of leasing out convicts for private businesses. The split-jury provision preserved the pool of free labor and made it easier for the state to convict and imprison black men.

The state Attorney General and local prosecutors are opposed to the constitutional amendment because it would make it harder for them to obtain convictions and it would take away some of their leverage when it comes time to plea bargaining. Of course, local prosecutors claim that they just want an efficient criminal (in)justice system and they don't want to have to worry about the time and expense involved in re-trials.

Well, tough shit, Mr. Prosecutor. You are doing your best to defend a system that denies millions of people due process. You are defending a system that is a hold-over from the days of Jim Crow and that was enacted specifically to keep a thumb on black people.

The coalition behind the ballot measure has made for very strange bedfellows with the measure passing the Republican-controlled state legislature with a better than 2/3 majority. George Soros and the Koch brothers have also put their money behind the measure.

If you live in Louisiana and haven't yet voted, please vote Yes on 2.

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