Promise of Justice Initiative Announces Milestone in Campaign to Restore Justice to Louisianans Still Imprisoned by Jim Crow Jury Convictions

PJI calls on Louisiana officials to apply Supreme Court ruling retroactively, striking down Jim Crow jury convictions for all

July 22, 2020

NEW ORLEANS – The Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI) today announced the filing of their 30th petition as part of an unprecedented litigation campaign to restore justice to the more than 1,500 Louisianans who are still in prison due to non-unanimous jury convictions in state criminal trials, which were declared unconstitutional under the Sixth Amendment by the U.S. Supreme Court on April 20, 2020 in Ramos v Louisiana. The landmark decision applies to future cases and is currently not being applied retroactively, leaving people already serving sentences due to non-unanimous verdicts – including life without possibility of parole – to remain in prison.

A recording of today’s press conference is available here

“While we applaud the Court’s decision in Ramos v Louisiana, it currently does not address more than 1,500 Louisianans who are still in prison after being convicted by a non-unanimous jury. These Louisianans remain separated from their families and communities by an unjust law that continues to inflict deep wounds and devastating harm,” said Mercedes Montagnes, Executive Director of the Promise of Justice Initiative. “This campaign recognizes that we cannot heal the wounds inflicted by this racist law without freeing the people who are imprisoned by it. That is why we are working to restore liberty to these Louisianans, and why it is vital for the Supreme Court – and every elected official in Louisiana – to commit to applying this decision retroactively to all those who have been convicted under this shameful Jim Crow-era practice.”

The petitions seek new trials for people convicted by a less-than-unanimous jury, or ask the court to sentence them to time served. Attorneys with PJI are working in partnership with more than 40 pro bono law firms and 150 lawyers across the country, and have until April 20, 2021 to restore justice to those still in prison under unconstitutional non-unanimous jury convictions. 

Among the petitions filed is on behalf of Donald Javon Ross, a 34-year-old father of three who was convicted by a non-unanimous jury verdict and sentenced to 25 years in prison. The suspect in the case was wearing a ski mask, and the only witness was uncertain of the perpetrators’ identity. 

The use of non-unanimous jury convictions in criminal trials dates back to the dawn of the Jim Crow era in 1898, when white supremacists in Louisiana came together to write a new constitution. For years, Louisiana and Oregon have been the only two states that allowed people to be convicted of serious crimes without the unanimous consent of a jury. In 2018, 64 percent of Louisiana voters approved Amendment 2, which abolished non-unanimous jury convictions for future felony cases. 

“Jim Crow juries are systemic racism defined: a law written by white supremacists that continues to deprive thousands of predominantly Black Louisianians of their liberty,” said Jamila Johnson, Managing Attorney for PJI’s Jim Crow Juries project. “Amid a national reckoning against institutionalized racism, Jim Crow juries are a monument to white supremacy that must be torn down. Later this year, the Supreme Court will consider making their decision striking down Jim Crow Juries retroactive. But regardless of the outcome of that case, Louisiana legislators, judges, and prosecutors have an obligation to address the plight of the people who remain imprisoned on the basis of Jim Crow jury convictions.” 

“I was in the courtroom when the verdict came out. The two people who voted not guilty, their voices didn’t matter,” said Jeanique Angelain, whose father-in-law is currently serving life without parole after a non-unanimous jury conviction. “So my children suffer because those jurors didn’t have a voice. My children have never seen him outside of prison.”

“Our justice system is failing us,” said Miranda Jordan, whose mother was convicted by a Jim Crow jury and who spoke during today’s virtual press conference. The conviction caused her siblings to be separated, and she and her brother to become homeless. “There were two jurors who decided that my mother was not guilty. The court decided to ignore the very jurors that they selected.” 

PJI has also filed an amicus brief in Edwards v Vannoy to urge the Supreme Court to apply Ramos v Louisiana to everyone incarcerated by non-unanimous verdicts, restoring liberty to those still serving sentences. The brief observes that the costs of reversing these cases are less than the costs to the integrity of the system that arises from not complying with our Constitution’s promise; as the Supreme Court has said: “There is no grandfather clause that permits States to enforce punishments the Constitution forbids.”

The coalition supporting a change to Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury law for past and future cases includes the voices of families directly impacted by incarceration, elected officials, faith leaders, and community advocates.

The amicus brief filed today is at: https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/19/19-5807/148311/20200721163238941_19-5807.Edwards.Vannoy.Amicus.Promise%20of%20Justice%20Initiative.pdf 

CONTACT: Laura Swinford, 314-856-2799, laura@gpsimpact.com 

Promise of Justice Initiative Announces Milestone in Campaign to Restore Justice to Louisianans Still Imprisoned by Jim Crow Jury Convictions
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