Proposed Amendment No. 2
As the citizens of New Orleans head to the polls on November 6th the weight of history hangs in the balance. Unlike other elections this one goes beyond voting for those who would hold various elected offices. This election has on the ballot one of the most important and impactful issues that affect disproportionately effect on African-Americans.
Proposed Constitutional Amendment 2 reads, ‘Do you support an amendment that require a unanimous jury verdict in all non-capital offenses that are committed on or after January 1, 2019.’
Controversial Split Verdict Law (Non-Unanimous)
In short, Louisiana is only one of two states (other is Oregon) in the country that do not require a unanimous jury verdict in serious felony cases. A result that often leads to sending people to jail often for life. In fact, Louisiana only requires 10 of twelve jurors to consent in serious felony trials to get a guilty conviction. This unusual and controversial practice is something that’s contributed to Louisiana being (recently Oklahoma took top spot) as the prison capital of the world.
This law has historical links to a race-based legacy of segregation and racism that in 1898 worked to restore White Supremacy by preventing Blacks from voting and removing them from all aspects of power and relegating them to second-class citizenship. This was occurring as a White backlash in a state that during Reconstruction had Black Legislators and a Black elected official rising to hold offices as high as Lt. Governor and for a short time Governor.
In this law there is a disconnect where in less serious felony case, these are tried before a six-person jury and the verdict must be unanimous for a defendant to be found guilty. So, should we ask ourselves why in cases for more serious felonies that the same rules do not apply?
Legislators Fight to Change Law
This question is something that legislators from all over the state have been debating in recent years as issues of Criminal Justice Reform is front and center in not just Louisiana, but across America. Recently, the Louisiana Senate passed a bill authored by JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, which will allow the voters to decide whether or not to change what some critics call an unfair and archaic law that reminds people of a sad time in the history of racial injustice where laws were designed to re-instate White Supremacy and disenfranchise Blacks.
Troy Carter has held several offices including the New Orleans City Council, State Representative and presently a State Senator in District 7, who was one of the co-authors of this Constitutional Amendment. “I am fully in support of Constitutional Amendment #2 on the November ballot.”
Speaking of why people should vote yes on the amendment and correcting the historical legacy of racial imbalance and equity in changing this law he says, “This Amendment gives us a great opportunity to correct one of the last vestiges of Jim Crow Era Laws that are discriminatory on its very face. As one of the co-authors of this amendment I wholeheartedly support and ask our citizens to vote yes on this very important Constitutional Amendment.”
Justice in Black and White
Closer to home, many African-Americans know someone whether it is a family, friend or acquaintance who have found themselves having problems inside the Criminal Justice System. Where justice is not doled out equally and often times it is not colorblind; with a disproportionate number of African-Americans finding themselves only a stone throw away from a loved one being affected by this unusual law. And in the most unfortunate of circumstances it can take away a loved one in some instances serving life sentences.
New Orleans Criminal Sheriff, Marlin Gusman, who is tough on crime, but takes a more balanced approach feels that it is time to change the non-unanimous verdict in the case of serious felonies. In his time as, Criminal Sheriff on Tulane and S. Broad he’s been a champion in the field attempting to reduce recidivism rates by taking a holistic approach looking at how all the moving parts of the Criminal Justice System can work together to make New Orleans a safer City and ensure justice for those accused of serious felonies. “I support this amendment. This amendment will bring us in line with 48 states. Depriving someone of their liberty should require a unanimous verdict,” says Sheriff Gusman.
The Need for Criminal Justice Reform
There is a demand for reform coming from many who see that the scales of justice are not balanced. As it relates to supporters of repealing non-unanimous verdicts not only on the local and state level have legislators backed this amendment. But on the national level Congressional Black Caucus Chair Cedric Richmond D-Louisiana Congressional District 2, is also a supporter.
He has been an advocate in this fight for much of his political career. Presently, he is a member of the Judiciary Committee and is Co-Chair of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Caucus. He was important in advocating for the Department of Justice to begin its investigation into the police involved shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge.
Also, he took a passionate interest in the Angola 3 Case and led an effort to call for the U.S. Congress to investigate Louisiana’s use of solitary confinement. He has become one of the voices of reform in the Washington D.C. making his colleagues understand that the way the Criminal Justice System is presently hurts families, especially those that are non-Whites and lack economic resources. Additionally, it’s costing tax payer’s dollars and not doing much to reduce repeat offenses. In short, we are not as a society getting the best return on our investment with the Criminal Justice Systemin its present form and something must change.
A Chance for Voters to Re-Write and Make History
The reality of the injustices that occur in the Criminal Justice System is as clear as day in the life of the average African-American. And while studies done by countless organizations show the evidence that Blacks are more affected by this and other types of laws, customs and practices there are some who do not believe this law should be amended, but it is in this day that the voters of Louisiana can turn the page and take Louisiana and move it forward from the plantation of it slave past into the pasture of freedom that is universal humanity and justice for all.
The non-unanimous verdict is an issue that if amended can have real consequences and can determine whether some family loved ones will get the justice they deserve. This is an issue that is in some way finding some bi-partisan support in a fractured political climate.
It is 120 years that’s passed since this law was placed on the book by a legislature that saw that restoring White Supremacy at the expense of disenfranchising and incarcerating Blacks. In turn, leaving Louisiana as a state that is an island unto itself as a place of semi-slavery in respect to its Criminal Justice System. Today state legislators led by representatives from New Orleans have led an effort placing on the ballot Proposed Amendment #2 giving the voters a chance to take a part in reshaping and correcting history.