Even if we didn’t know that Louisiana is one of just two states where criminal defendants can be convicted with a less-than-unanimous jury, we would still know it’s time for that provision to be taken out of state law.
A leftover of the Jim Crowe era, split-jury felony convictions trace their history back to an official desire to deprive black citizens of their political power.
That was the stated goal of the state constitutional convention where this anomaly was added to Louisiana’s governing document.
And it achieved its purpose. The split-jury rule originally said that a 12-person jury could convict a defendant if nine people voted guilty. The rule was later changed to require 10 votes.
Only Oregon and Louisiana allow split-jury convictions, and even Oregon requires them in murder cases.
Fortunately, Louisiana voters have a chance to right this historical wrong on Nov. 6.
State Sen. J.P. Morell, D-New Orleans, was able this year to garner the votes needed to place the amendment on the fall ballot.
That is good news in as far as it goes. The challenge now becomes educating the voters on why this is a much-needed amendment.
“This is an issue that takes a few moments to explain,” former Grant Parish District Attorney Ed Tarpley said last week. “The history of this law is really important. Once you know the history of this law, then you have to vote to repeal it. This is something that is a stain on the legacy of our state.”
In the political realm, it is common to see exaggeration, hyperbole and overstatement. Tarpley’s take is none of those.
This was a bad, racist law when it was made part of the state Constitution in the 1800s, and it remains so today.
There was some talk during the legislative session from district attorneys who complained that changing our Constitution to put us in line with nearly other state would make convictions too difficult to achieve.
That seems unlikely as prosecutors elsewhere deal with the same burden and have little trouble convincing juries of defendants’ guilt.
Good luck to Tarpley and the rest of this bipartisan effort to change a law that should never have been passed in the first place. The Jim Crowe era eventually ended. It is time for its reach into the present to be wiped away as well.
Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper, not of any individual.