What the Louisiana AG says about non-unanimous new jury trials
When the United States Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that non-unanimous jury convictions in life-sentence cases were unconstitutional, it set a precedent for future trials in Louisiana and Oregon, the only states where the practice remained legal.
But a year later, the nation’s highest court also ruled against the law being retroactive to deal with previous convictions under the old system seen as racist and a remnant of Jim Crow, leaving the decision to local prosecutors to decide. whether or not to grant new trials.
Louisiana voters had already decided to ban the practice with an amendment to their own state’s constitution a year before the US Supreme Court’s decision, but that amendment also did not require retroactivity.
On May 10, the Louisiana Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether to force the state to grant retroactivity to as many as 1,500 people convicted under the old system.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and his Solicitor General Liz Murrill will defend the state’s position against requiring retroactivity for those who have exhausted all of their remedies.
After:1,500 incarcerated could get new trials after court hears arguments from split juries
“Louisiana voters have decided that unanimity is good policy in criminal prosecutions after January 1, 2019,” Landry said. “However, if Ramos (the U.S. Supreme Court ruling) were to be applied retroactively in Louisiana, thousands of our state’s long-term convictions — the crimes of which each have victims — would be overturned.”
The Louisiana Supreme Court will hear Reddick v. Louisiana next week based on the Reginald Reddick case.
Reddick was convicted in 1997 of a second-degree murder charge and sentenced to life in prison. The jury voted 10-2 to convict Reddick. Reddick and his Promise of Justice Initiative lawyers argue that the conviction is unconstitutional because the jury did not vote unanimously.
Reddick asked for post-conviction relief, which is how someone can challenge a conviction after they have exhausted all their avenues of appeal.
Murrill said the US Supreme Court was clear in its guidance.
“The Supreme Court of Louisiana should do the same as the Supreme Court of the United States,” she said.
Murrill said those seeking retroactivity should take a legislative route.
“The proper course to deal with this category is through the Louisiana Legislature and not through a special exclusion from the courts,” she said, noting that bills have been introduced to require retroactivity.
After:SCOTUS says non-unanimous jury decision not retroactive for those who have exhausted appeals
The argument for retroactivity in the Louisiana Supreme Court case will be that the non-unanimous juries were “indisputably racist.”
“We disagree,” Murrill said. “We believe this conclusion is drawn from flawed data and does not stand up to any type of empirical data that would hold up in court.”
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Louisiana Network. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1