November 17, 2020
NEW ORLEANS – The Promise of Justice Initiative today released a new report finding that of the more than 1,500 people still incarcerated on the basis of non-unanimous jury verdicts, 80 percent are Black and most are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. The report confirms the racially disparate impact of Louisiana’s refusal to automatically grant new trials to people with final convictions due to non-unanimous juries, despite a Supreme Court ruling declaring the practice unconstitutional. On December 2nd, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments over whether to apply its ruling invalidating non-unanimous jury verdicts retroactively.
The report is based on PJI’s analysis of the more than 1,500 people it has confirmed are still serving sentences based on the verdict of a non-unanimous jury. Over the past year, PJI has reached out to nearly 2,000 people in 40 different prisons, analyzing their cases and filing petitions seeking new trials.
“The non-unanimous jury rule was created by white supremacists to oppress and imprison Black people, and that was exactly their result,” said Jamila Johnson, managing attorney for the Jim Crow Juries Project at the Promise of Justice Initiative. “Our analysis confirms that Black people represent the overwhelming share of people still serving these sentences, and that most are serving life without the possibility of parole. Jim Crow juries are a stain on our criminal legal system that continues to destroy lives and keep families apart. We will not stand by while people who were denied fair trials by a racist and unconstitutional practice continue to languish behind bars.”
Key findings of the report, which also features profiles of people and families impacted by the non-unanimous jury rule, include:
80% of people still imprisoned due to non-unanimous jury verdict cases are Black, compared to the 67.5% of Louisiana’s overall prison population that is Black.
62% of people with non-unanimous jury verdicts are serving life sentences, compared to just 16.3% of Louisiana’s overall adult correctional population.
Almost 40% of people incarcerated with non-unanimous jury verdicts are over the age of 50.
73% of the cases where people are still in prison with final convictions for non-unanimous jury verdicts come from trials in the last 20 years. Conversely, 27% have been in prison for more than 20 years.
In 84% of cases, more than an hour of deliberation could not resolve the reasonable doubts of the dissenting jurors.
The full report is online HERE.
Judicial District Courts with more than 20 non-unanimous jury convictions:
19th (East Baton Rouge)
22nd (St. Tammany/Washington)
21st (St. Helena, Tangipahoa, Livingston)
16th (St. Martin/Iberia)
About the Jim Crow Juries Project
For more than 120 years, Louisiana was an outlier among states in allowing people to be convicted of serious offenses – and even spend their lives in prison – without the unanimous consent of a jury. Louisiana’s split-jury rule was devised by white supremacists at an 1898 Constitutional Convention whose express purpose was to “to establish the supremacy of the white race in the state.”
The non-unanimous jury rule helped make Louisiana the state with the highest incarceration rater and the most wrongful convictions per capita in the Deep South.
On April 20, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in Ramos v. Louisiana, that the Sixth Amendment right to a unanimous jury applies in both federal and state courts. But Louisiana continues to resist application of this constitutional promise to individuals whose convictions are final, forcing people serving long sentences due to non-unanimous verdicts – including life without possibility of parole – to remain in prison.
Working in partnership with more than 40 pro bono law firms and more than 150 lawyers across the country, the Promise of Justice Initiative’s Jim Crow Juries Project is a campaign to heal the wounds inflicted by Jim Crow juries and restore the promise of justice to the more than 1,500 Louisianans who are still in prison due to non-unanimous jury convictions.
CONTACT: Laura Swinford, firstname.lastname@example.org