In early 2018, The Baton Rouge Advocate News Paper released a series entitled “Tilting The Scales: A Jim Crow Law still colors Justice in Louisiana.” The series created an immediate buzz from experts and historians who labeled the Advocates findings the most comprehensive ever conducted related to non-unanimous jury outcomes. As a result, an extended and heated debate, lead by Senator J.P. Morrell, ensued within the state Legislature concerning the racial animus and intent of Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury scheme, also known as 10-2.
The legislature debate would lead most to discover a disturbing history beneath Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury scheme, a history that ironically began with an elaborately orchestrated plan by Louisiana delegates during the convention of 1898.
They sought to create a criminal justice system that would reinstitute a new form of slavery under the guise of the 13th Amendment’s indentured servitude clause. This diabolical plan allowed for free or low-cost labor of African Americans who found themselves disproportionately convicted by non-unanimous juries.
With a new and profound understanding of the laws origin, the Louisiana Legislature approved Senate Bill No. 243. The bill permitted Louisiana’s electors to vote yes or no to amend the constitution of Louisiana to require a unanimous jury verdict in all felony cases committed on or after January 1, 2019.
However, unbeknownst to voters, the amending of Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury law, as it is written, did not change the legal status nor provide recourse for the prisoners who remain subjected to its racist history. As if this exclusionary rule was not enough, many of the jurisdictions in which those convictions occurred have now unscrupulously sealed jury polling, the solo document by which defendants can empirically demonstrate that their conviction was, in fact, the result of a non-unanimous jury verdict.
How can we as a modern society agree to correct 120 years of injustice by way of a constitutional amendment for those who have yet to be accused of a crime but deny those same constitutional rights to those convicted and sentenced to spend the remainder of their natural lives in prison?
The administering of justice should not depend upon the judicial economy, nor by the number of prisoners who may be released, as is often the premise in which justice is predicated. Justice by all accounts should be rendered by adhering to the guiding principles of equality for which the 14th Amendment was intended.
Finally, with that said, let us unite our voices once again to ensure that those who seek office, as well as those who wish to maintain their seat, are held accountable to that very principle.
Anthony Boult has served 25 years of a life sentence. He has earned a Bachelor’s and Associates Degree from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Angola Extension Center. He is also a published author of “The Beauty of Change,” a gang interventionist and founder of United Family Ministry a nonprofit organization that assists and support children of the incarcerated.