Lawmakers push to pass bill to allow retroactive action on non-unanimous jury cases

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BATON ROUGE, La (BRPROUD) – A bill that looks to help people convicted under what some call Jim Crow juries get a new trial or parole gained attention at the state capitol. While it didn’t come to a vote, some are pushing to get it passed this session.

House Bill 346 looks to give people who were convicted with non-unanimous juries another chance at a new trial or parole options but the vote did not happen Thursday because Representative Gaines said that he wants to wait for The U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Non-unanimous juries were born in the late 1800’s and seen as a way to better convict people of color to be used for prisoner leasing. People could be found guilty with a 10-2 vote of a jury. The practice was found to be unconstitutional by the The U.S. Supreme Court and the people of Louisiana voted in 2018 to repeal the policy. This bill would allow a retroactive aspect of the repeal.

“This is to protect them and if justice is to be fair, if justice is to prevail it has to be applied uniformly and universally,” Rep. Gaines said.

While there was no opposition in the committee hearing. There is a concern that allowing the 1500 people convicted under these juries a chance of a new trial could overwhelm the already bogged down court system

“But we should not reject retroactive relief through a fear that we will produce a tsunami of litigation,” Former Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette J. Johnson said. “We have to address legally sanctioned racism in our criminal justice system and that’s the only way we can make progress.”

A case in The U.S. Supreme Court involving a Louisiana man is being heard.

He is asking for the retroactive part of the law to apply to his case. The decision is expected to come any day but it is not clear if it will happen before the end of the session. Rep. Gaines voluntarily deferred his bill to wait for the supreme court decision on that case. Some lawmakers said there is enough support to pass the law now.

“I am certainly going to have some conversations with Representative Gaines. I don’t want to wait on the Supreme Court,” Representative Edward ‘Ted’ James III said. “I was elected to enact policy. it’s clear the voters in the state of Louisiana want us to reverse this policy. We all know the history of this policy. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the notion that I need the Supreme Court to tell me how to do my job.”

Even if the court does not support retroactivity the state can still pass it’s own law. The bill can be brought back to the committee at any time for the remainder of the session that ends on June 10.

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