Debate continues over likely outcome for old cases with non-unanimous verdicts

Published: Jun. 29, 2021 at 7:43 PM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - A local state district judge recently threw out the 2012 conviction of a man found guilty of manslaughter by a non-unanimous jury.

Judge Kendrick Guidry, 14th JDC, was the first judge in the state to do that since unanimous verdicts have been required.

The case was about David Nelson who allegedly sucker-punched a 19-year-old at a local strip club.

Prosecutors said the victim fell back and suffered a fatal head injury.

With a 10-2 vote, the jury convicted Nelson of manslaughter, and he was sentenced to 30 years.

Calcasieu First Assistant D.A. Jacob Johnson says other state district courts and the third circuit are not granting new trials in such cases.

“We are confident. We respect Judge Guidry. We respect his ruling. We disagree with his ruling, respectfully. And we intend to seek appellate review, and we feel confident that we will prevail on appellate review,” Johnson said.

Though the United States Supreme Court found non-unanimous verdicts to be unconstitutional, the justices did not force state courts to grant new trials. But the U.S. Supreme Court left the door open for state courts and legislatures to provide remedies.

Local Senior Public Defender King Alexander says such defendants deserve some remedy, even if it’s not a new trial.

“We know that it was unconstitutional to convict them that way. And to the extent someone is still incarcerated, they deserve a remedy whether it’s from the courts or the legislature. They’ve got to have a remedy and the reformers are not going to stop,” Alexander said.

The U.S. Supreme Court said the issue of a non-unanimous jury could only be raised when defendants are still in the direct appeal phase, which is soon after their conviction. Alexander says the Nelson case, 12 years old, raised a different constitutional issue - equal protection under the law.

So, for now, there is no automatic retro-activity on old cases that were not unanimous.

A defendant’s attorney must file papers in court to raise appeal issues.

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