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Judiciary Committee Passes Bill Requiring Unanimous Juries For Felony Convictions

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A Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would allow citizens to vote on whether Louisiana should require unanimous juries for felony convictions. Currently, only 10 of 12 jurists are needed to convict someone of a felony. New Orleans Senator JP Morrell says our current laws aren’t making people any safer in one of the most crime ridden states in the nation.

 

Morrell says, "Having this non-unanimous jury has not lead to more of the right people being in jail, more of the right people staying in jail, or being a deterrent to having people go to jail."

 

Louisiana and Oregon are the only two states that do not require a unanimous jury.

 

Morrell argued that research done by the Innocence Project, a group that helps overturn wrongful convictions, proves unanimous juries help safeguard civil liberties.

 

Morrell says, "A large number of the instances in which they overturn a verdict... comes from one of these non-unanimous jury convictions." 

 

But Executive Director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association Pete Adams spoke out against the legislation, saying neither politicians nor the public have enough quality research at hand to make a decision on the issue.

 

Adams says, "There is very little reliable evidence that unanimous juries would be more reliable."

 

Adams is concerned that stiffening conviction requirements would lead to more mistrials, which can be expensive for the state. He also says the US Supreme Court has already weighed in and deemed non unanimous juries an adequate requirement for justice.

 

Adams says that non-unanimous verdicts are "clearly constitutional," and that "the United States Supreme Court rejected writs on that very issue last summer."

 

The bill was passed five to one, with only Baton Rouge Senator Bodi White voting against.