LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Appeals are underway to challenge verdicts that weren’t unanimous, and at least one of those is expected to go to the U.S. Supreme Court this fall. If the court was to rule against non-unanimous jury convictions, Louisiana prosecutors may have to retry thousands of cases.
It was just last year Louisiana voters moved to require unanimous verdicts in felony trials, but public defender King Alexander said that’s not why split verdicts are being brought up now.
“It’s just a coincidence that this is happening after the voters of Louisiana decided to do away with non-unanimous verdicts going forward this year," Alexander said.
He said he’s filed appeals on the issue for at least 10 years.
“This is an issue that has been brought before the U.S. Supreme Court repeatedly and people who have watched it for a long time, including me, have felt that the cases that allowed it were going to be overruled at some point," he said.
Calcasieu D.A. John DeRosier does not think the U.S. Supreme Court will change its mind on split verdicts.
“They’ve ruled at least twice, as I recall, in Louisiana cases that it does not violate the United States Constitution," DeRosier said. "The United States Constitution has not changed, so how could they come back and rule it is unconstitutional?”
If Supreme Court does rule it unconstitutional, and it’s retroactive, DeRosier says there would be insurmountable problems.
“If that happens and all verdicts that were not unanimous verdicts are overturned, there will be literally thousands of felony trials in Louisiana that will have to be revisited, and literally thousands of people that could be released from prison," DeRosier said.
In the campaign to require unanimous juries for felonies, voters were assured it would only apply to crimes after Jan. 1 of this year.
“Lawyers will always file motions, and people who are serving life sentences on a non-unanimous verdict will certainly hope that something can be done for them,” Alexander said. “A new trial, at least, or a chance to accept a plea deal.”
DeRosier also says defendants accused of crimes before 2019 who have not yet gone to trial are now raising the issue of whether they are entitled to a unanimous verdict.