Lambert v. Louisiana – PJI Fights to End Discriminatory Non-Unanimous Juries

Louisiana and Oregon are the only two states that support convictions from non-unanimous juries. Prosecutors only need to persuade 10 out of 12 jurors to secure a felony conviction that doesn’t involve the death penalty. 

These jury systems are a direct vestige of a history of white supremacy and oppression. Lambert v. Louisiana gives the Supreme Court the opportunity to reverse this historical racism in favor for more egalitarian and fair jury systems. 

Louisiana leads the nation, and the world, in incarceration.  Per capita, it leads the country in wrongful convictions and exonerations.  While non-unanimous juries may not be the sole cause, the Promise of Justice Initiative believes that the lack of unanimity undermines confidence in the administration of justice.  We believe that the 10-2 verdict is a lasting monument to – as well as a daily resurrection of – the time when the State had no interest in preserving and protecting the rights of African-American citizens.   

The Washington Post’s recent article These Jury Systems are Vestiges of White Supremacy emphasizes the racist background of non-unanimous juries: 

In Louisiana:The historical reasons behind the jury systems in Louisiana and Oregon offend our democratic values. Louisiana required unanimous verdicts when it became a territory in 1803, but non-unanimous verdicts were formally adopted as law during Louisiana’s 1898 constitutional convention, where lawmakers declared that their “mission was . . . to establish the supremacy of the white race.” At the same convention, Louisiana adopted literacy tests for voting and one of the South’s first “grandfather clauses,” which exempted white voters whose father or grandfather had previously voted from taking literacy tests.


Eliminating unanimity accomplished two things. First, the change paved the way for quick convictions that would facilitate the use of free prisoner labor as a replacement for the loss of free slave labor. Second, it ensured that African American jurors could not use their voting power to block convictions of other African Americans. An 1870 editorial in the New Orleans Daily Picayune posited that the recently emancipated were ‘wholly ignorant of the responsibilities of jurors, unable to discriminate between truth and falsehood in testimony, and capable only of being corrupted by bribes.'”

In Oregon: “In Oregon, the 1934 change from a unanimous to a non-unanimous jury system targeted primarily ethnic and religious minorities. By the 1930s, the Ku Klux Klan found widespread acceptance in the state. Anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic sentiments peaked in 1933, when a jury failed to convict a Jewish man in the murder a Protestant man, instead handing down a verdict of manslaughter. The Morning Oregonian blamed the verdict on “the vast immigration into America from southern and eastern Europe, of people untrained in the jury system.” It then accused immigrants of making “the jury of twelve increasingly unwieldy and unsatisfactory.” The following year, Oregon passed a ballot measure to allow felony convictions based on a less-than-unanimous vote.”


Learn more about PJI’s work to end non-unanimous juries in Louisiana. 


Lambert v. Louisiana – PJI Fights to End Discriminatory Non-Unanimous Juries
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