April 20, 2020
NEW ORLEANS, La. – Today, in Ramos v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court held that less-than-
unanimous verdicts in state criminal trials violate the Constitution. In November 2018, voters amended
the state constitution to require unanimous jury verdicts moving forward, making Oregon the only
remaining state to allow non-unanimous juries. This ballot initiative was prospective only and provided no
justice to the thousands of Louisianans convicted by Jim Crow juries and an explicitly racist 120 year old
law. People were deprived liberty without the full protection of the Constitution. Now, as a result of the
spread of COVID-19, this deprivation of liberty can literally be the difference between life and death. This
decision and the path forward for people being held in prison on a non unanimous jury conviction is
Lawyers from the Promise of Justice Initiative have been bringing this challenge to the United States
Supreme Court since 2004. “We are heartened that the Court has held, once and for all, that the promise
of the Sixth Amendment fully applies in Louisiana, rejecting any concept of second-class justice,” said Ben Cohen, of Counsel at the Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI).
Many people tried without the full protections of the constitution are now incarcerated under conditions
without protection from COVID-19. Louisiana remains the state with the highest incarceration rate in the world and one of the highest exoneration rates. Louisiana has more people serving life without the possibility of parole per capita than any other state. In sheer numbers, only states with much higher populations California, Pennsylvania and Florida have more people serving life without parole. Louisiana has five times more people serving Life without Parole than Texas. The state has never tracked the number of people convicted by less-than-unanimous juries. Many judicial districts place jury polling slips under seal, making those convicted under the harmful practice even more difficult to find. The Advocate’s Pulitzer Prize winning series estimated 2,000 convictions with non-unanimous jury verdicts over the last 30 years. The Promise of Justice Initiative seeks to identify all of the people who remain in custody as a result of an unconstitutional conviction, to find them lawyers who can help remove this stain of the past from Louisiana’s justice system. PJI has already made direct contact with over one thousand individuals
incarcerated by non-unanimous jury decisions and will ramp up outreach efforts following this decision.
“It has been a long road to get here. We are focused on identifying those who could be impacted by this
change of law because the state has no mechanism to identify those who are impacted. Now is the time to
ensure no one is left behind.” Jamila Johnson, Managing Attorney at PJI.
“This moment offers the promise of healing for our state which has existed under the specter of this racist law for over a century. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court reckoned with the largest standing monument to the Confederacy with this historic ruling,” said Mercedes Montagnes, Executive Director at PJI. “We are eager to make sure that Louisianans are given the full protections of the constitution’s promise and that this victory is not hollow.”
Read the ruling here.