Louisiana Supreme Court to weigh fate of 1,500 inmates convicted by split juries | Law courts

New trials are in the balance for as many as 1,500 state inmates convicted by split juries, as the Louisiana Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on Tuesday on whether to make a recent ban on jury verdicts retroactive. Split.

The arguments before the seven justices in the case of convicted killer Reginald Reddick come four years after the state legislature agreed to ask voters to ban split verdicts, which began in the Jim Crow era and have maintained a disparate impact on black residents until the 21st. century, the data shows.

To get it on the 2018 ballot, the lawyers agreed to make the ban prospective-only, applying to trials for crimes committed in 2019 or later. Voters approved him in a groundswell.

Two years later, the United States Supreme Court decided in Ramos v. Louisiana that U.S. juries were still expected to be unanimous, reversing a 1972 decision that endorsed split verdicts in Louisiana and Oregon, the only two states to adopt them.

The move meant new trials, or plea deals to avoid them, for about 100 Louisiana inmates. But it offered no relief to a much larger number of inmates who were convicted by split juries and exhausted their appeals. Last year, the United States Supreme Court ruled in another case, Edwards v. Vannoy, that these long-time inmates were out of luck in federal court.

Inmates and their attorneys have denounced the law’s racist origins and its disparate impact on black defendants and jurors in modern times. They argue that the court should go where the U.S. Supreme Court and state legislature have refused to tread, to “provide a remedy for a constitutional violation of a magnitude seldom brought before a court.”

The attorneys also note that the U.S. Supreme Court, while rejecting federal assistance for these inmates, advised that Louisiana and Oregon “remain free, if they choose, to retroactively apply the rule of unanimity of the jury as state law”.

Attorney General Jeff Landry and Solicitor General Liz Murrill oppose the fate, saying retrials for so many detainees would “overwhelm the justice system.”

Landry also denies evidence that the split verdict rule, enshrined at a convention called in 1898 to restore white supremacy in Louisiana, created a disparate impact on its black residents. He argues that the state “unquestionably cleaned up its non-unanimous jury law of any alleged racial animosity” in 1973, when state delegates increased the number of major felony verdicts from 9 jurors to 10 jurors.

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In any case, voters who passed the state constitutional amendment knew it applied only to the future, and the court “should not ‘short-circuit’ the political process,” wrote Murrill in a recent court filing.

The attorney analyzed records from thousands of state jury trials over six years and reported in 2018 that black defendants were 30% more likely than white defendants to be convicted by split juries. Black jurors, consistently much more likely to be convicted than acquitted, were more than twice as likely to disagree with a conviction, according to the newspaper.

Reddick, of New Orleans, was convicted of murder on a 10-to-2 count and sentenced to automatic life without parole for the 1993 murder of Al Moliere, 50, who was shot in the head one morning in front of Johnny’s Bar in Davant. Both men were black. This was Reddick’s second trial for the murder; a unanimous jury had previously found him guilty of first degree murder, but the decision was overturned.

Tuesday’s issue is not Reddick’s guilt or innocence, but whether the court should ignore the US Supreme Court’s reasoning that the split verdict ban was not the kind of “decisive” decision that justifies going back in time. Jamila Johnson, an attorney with the New Orleans-based Promise of Justice Initiative, argues that state judges could instead adopt a new “Jim Crow” test for retroactivity.

“The failure to find retroactive Ramos not only condemns hundreds of people to lose the rest of their lives in prison,” Johnson said in a legal filing. “It also serves as a permanent reminder that the rights of black Louisianans are not inalienable and are not guaranteed.”

Tuesday’s hearing marks the first time the state court will address the issue of retroactivity head-on since state voters approved juries unanimously by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. Prior to that, the court dismissed out of hand the state’s challenges to the split verdict rule.

While attempts to deal with older split-jury convictions at the state Capitol have largely languished, a state House committee this week approved a bill that would establish a committee to review older convictions. old and possibly grant parole to the defendants involved. Inmate advocates argue that’s not enough and duck the point.

The Louisiana Supreme Court will hear the case Tuesday afternoon before considering another split verdict issue.

A split Jefferson Parish jury convicted Ronald Gasser on a lesser charge of manslaughter in the 2016 shooting death of former NFL player Joe McKnight in Jefferson Parish. The Louisiana Supreme Court will consider on Tuesday whether District Attorney Paul Connick’s office can retry Gasser for murder. Gasser’s conviction was still on appeal when the United States Supreme Court banned split verdicts, leaving him eligible for a new trial.

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