Recently we tried a criminal case where our client was facing significant jail time if…
As most Louisiana trial lawyers know, and most people who have dealt with the Louisiana criminal justice system, Louisiana was one of two states to allow a non-unanimous verdict. Louisiana and Oregon were the only states that did not require a unanimous jury verdict to convict someone of a felony.
In other states, such as Texas or New York, if you are charged with a felony crime and go to trial, all twelve of the jurors must come back with a guilty verdict to find you guilty. If all twelve do not believe you are guilty, then the verdict is not unanimous and there will be an automatic mistrial. This is how it operates in most states and how it should operate.
Since 1898, Louisiana has had a law based on old “Jim Crow” laws that allows a jury to convict someone with a 10-2 verdict. The original design of this law was to limit the influence of black jurors on the verdict.
So, say you are charged with aggravated battery, which is a felony, and the case goes to trial. The jury hears the evidence and goes back to deliberate. Two of the 12 jurors believe that you are innocent or that the State hasn’t proven their case. That does not mean that you would be found not guilty. Since 10 of the jurors believe you are guilty, you would be found guilty even though 2 of the jurors disagree.
That law has now changed. Beginning January 1, 2019, in order to convict someone of a felony, it must be a unanimous jury verdict, or 12 to zero. The new law is not retroactive and will not apply to criminal cases already in progress, but will be in place for any charges after January 1.
As a criminal defense attorney who has tried numerous felony cases, I can say this is only fair. While I have had multiple not guilty verdicts, I have also had cases where the jury came back 10-2. If this law had been in effect at the time, the trial would have been declared a mistrial. At that point, the prosecutors could either retry the case or, as often happens, offer a plea deal with reduced charges.
A felony conviction is a serious conviction that can result in loss of freedom and heavy fines. It is not to be taken lightly. Now that Louisiana has been brought up to date with the rest of the states, our criminal justice system is much more fair.