Debate on move to end non-unanimous juries in Louisiana

Debate on move to end non-unanimous juries in Louisiana

CALCASIEU PARISH, LA (KPLC) - The future of how felony cases are handled could be in the hands of voters soon.

The state Senate recently passed a bill that would end non-unanimous jury verdicts in felony cases.

Currently, only Louisiana and Oregon allow people charged with felonies to be convicted when only 10 out of 12 jurors agree.

However, the state of Oregon does require a unanimous vote from the jury in murder trials.

Senate Bill 243 is sponsored by Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans.

Prosecutors, like Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier, disagree with the bill.

"Before you change a law make sure it's better than what you've got," DeRosier said. "I have yet to see any data, certainly no empirical data that indicates that unanimous jury verdicts are any more reliable than nonunanimous verdicts."

"If you go to unanimous verdicts instead of 10 out of 12, you could get one person who misrepresents his true motivations on that Jury then you may never reach a verdict."

Defense Attorney Andy Casanav questions that if a unanimous jury works in the other 48 states, why would it not work in Louisiana.

"12 people can agree when the evidence is strong, 12 people won't agree when the evidence is shaky." Casanav said. "People get convicted all the time all over this country by unanimous juries. It works in every other state except here and Oregon."

Casanav said you would have to go back over a century to find out why the law should be scrapped.

"The non-unanimous jury, it's only origin is bigotry," Casanav said. "Louisiana had unanimous juries up until the civil war and the reconstruction period. Essentially, and this was said in that post reconstruction constitutional convention, to ensure the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race."

"That's a quote from a delegate."

DeRosier said that may be the case, but it's not the issue when it comes to the efficiency of juries.

Senate bill 243 now waits to be heard by a house committee.

If it passes through the session, it would require a constitutional amendment and a statewide vote.

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