In Louisiana, only 10 out of 12 jurors have to agree to send a person to prison for life, rather than the conventional unanimous jury system. What’s worse, is that this split-jury loophole has very racist roots.
After reviewing nearly 1,000 Louisiana felony trials, it was found that nearly 40% of convictions were made by non-unanimous juries. In these cases, Black defendants were more than 30% more likely to be convicted than white defendants.
The law can be traced back to Louisiana’s 1898 constitutional convention, and it came just eight years after the 14th Amendment granted all men, including former slaves, the right to serve on juries. Even though Black Louisianians now had to be allowed on the jury, the split-jury law meant a majority of white jurors could reach a verdict without their consent.
However, a new ballot initiative has the chance to end the problematic split-jury law, and voters can decide to pass it in November. In a rare bipartisan move, Louisiana lawmakers with a supermajority voting aye approved a constitutional amendment that would strike down the inherently racist law.
So in November, the people of Louisiana will have to decide when they visit the polls whether someone’s guilt is worth proving beyond a shadow of a doubt.