Push to make non-unanimous jury ban retroactive fails in committee

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BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – State lawmakers made a push on Thursday to apply the ban on non-unanimous juries on past cases. The bill fell short of enough votes to advance weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court decision on the matter.

On May 17, The Supreme Court decided not to apply the ban on non-unanimous juries retroactively in Edwards v. Vannoy. But they left it up to the states to decide if they wanted to apply it themselves and that’s what Representative Randal Gaines’ bill looked to do. 

“I expected a challenge, I expected this to be difficult but we can only hope that our members will eventually come around to realize that you cannot apply a law to someone to avail them of justice and then deny that law to people who may have been previously a victim of that particular unjust law,” Rep. Gaines said.

Under the bill those who had been convicted under a non-unanimous jury, which means only 10 of 12 people would need to find someone guilty, could have a chance at a new trial or parole options.

During the first hearing for the bill there was wide support across the aisle. After the supreme court left the decision of retroactivity up to the state there was a shift and the bill failed with a 5-7 vote. Those in support of the bill were deeply disappointed by the change.

“We today continue to bow to a Jim Crow law that we continue to let our system buckle under injustice and refuse to fix it is a reflection of the worst of our state and the worst of our lawmakers,” said Jamila Johnson with the Promise of Justice Initiative.

Non-unanimous juries were found to be unconstitutional and the practice was taken off the books by a vote of the people in 2018. There are 1,500 people in Louisiana prisons that have been convicted by these juries. Those against the bill feared it would bog down the legal system with the new trials and be harmful to survivors of crimes to see the trial come back up. Advocates are still hopeful for a future change.

“We’re constantly evolving, we’re constantly moving in the right direction and hopefully we can come to that realization that the right thing has to be universally applied to everyone,” Rep. Gaines said.

He also said this won’t be the last the legislature hears of non-unanimous juries. Those in support of the bill said they’re going to bring back a similar bill next year to give hope to those who are in the prison system who were convicted under a non-unanimous jury. 

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