Presently before the U.S. Supreme Court
Amicus Curiae Brief has been filed by Lewis & Clark Law School Criminal Justice Reform Clinic.
John Adams said: “It is the unanimity of the jury that preserves the rights of mankind.” But in Louisiana, a defendant can be sentenced to life in prison without parole based upon a non-unanimous 10-2 verdict. Louisiana's majority verdict system was first introduced in the State's 1898 Constitution, as part of a series of measures specifically designed to "establish the supremacy of the white race." As Thomas Aiello wrote in Jim Crow’s Last Stand: Non-unanimous Jury Verdicts in Louisiana, “It was a law designed to increase convictions to feed the state’s burgeoning convict lease system and remained in the first half of the segregationist twentieth century even after convict lease had run its course. … It is the last active law of racist Redeemer politics in Louisiana.”
Louisiana leads the nation, and the world, in incarceration. Per capita, it leads the country in wrongful convictions and exonerations. While non-unanimous juries may not be the sole cause, the Promise of Justice Initiative believes that the lack of unanimity undermines confidence in the administration of justice. We believe that the 10-2 verdict is a lasting monument to – as well as a daily resurrection of – the time when the State had no interest in preserving and protecting the rights of African-American citizens.
Lambert v. Louisiana In the News
Louisiana and Oregon are not often thought of in the same vein. But on the issue of non-unanimous juries, they are kindred spirits.
In these two states, the prosecutor needs to persuade only 10 of 12 jurorsfor a felony conviction that does not involve the death penalty. All other states require unanimous jury decisions in felony cases — as does the federal system, including federal courts in Louisiana and Oregon.
These jury systems are largely unnoticed vestiges of white supremacy and oppression in our legal system. The Supreme Court now has the chance to accept a case that could end the use of non-unanimous juries in criminal cases. It should take this chance.
The U.S. Supreme Court next week will decide whether to accept a case that could test Oregon's unusual jury system, targeted by criminal justice reform advocates as deeply flawed and racist.
Jury unanimity isn't the law in Oregon and Louisiana. The two outlier states require that only 10 of 12 jurors agree to a guilty verdict for defendants facing most state felony charges, including manslaughter, arson and rape. That watered-down standard, which enables the majority to disregard the concerns of holdout jurors, reflects the racist and xenophobic mentality that thrived at the time of their passage decades ago.
Oregon’s sordid history of racial and ethnic discrimination is well known. Here in the Rogue Valley, a photo of the Ku Klux Klan parading through Ashland in the 1920s has been reprinted over and over when the issue of race relations comes up. What is less well known is that the state’s criminal justice system still contains a relic of that intolerance. This month, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to take up a challenge to that relic.
…. On Sept. 25, the Supreme Court is scheduled to consider whether to take up the case of Dale Lambert of Louisiana, who is serving a life sentence without parole for second-degree murder although two of the 12 jurors in his trial were not convinced of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The court should take the case, and erase once and for all this legacy of injustice.
The New Orleans Times Picayune: Should juries be unanimous? Treme murder case raises question for U.S. Supreme Court
What authorities described as a mistaken retaliatory murder committed four years ago in Treme could provide the unlikely impetus to end non-unanimous jury verdicts in the United States, supporters of criminal justice reform hope.
The Bend Bulletin: U.S. Supreme Court may review non-unanimous jury verdicts. Oregon one of two states to allow such convictions.
Oregon has a long history of racism and xenophobia dating back to its pre-statehood practice of excluding black residents from settling here. It later became the only state admitted to the union with an exclusionary clause in its constitution.
Some argue that contempt for minorities persists today in the form of jury verdicts that do not require unanimous approval — a practice Oregon voters approved in 1934. Advocates for jury reform, citing U.S. Census Bureau data, say the unorthodox practice silences minorities and can lead to race-based criminal convictions of innocent people.
The Portland Tribune: Oregon's non-unanimous jury law under scrutiny. A case appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court could impact Oregon law allowing 10-2 convictions.
Oregon's long-time law allowing felony convictions by non-unanimous juries could be tested if the U.S. Supreme Court accepts a case challenging a similar law in Louisiana.
Light of Justice
Our constitution guarantees fairness and even-handedness, yet too often, our criminal justice system fails to protect the constitutional rights of the accused. Bias, prosecutorial misconduct, and poor representation by defense lawyers infect outcomes, and Louisiana courts and prosecutors in particular have a long history of violating constitutional rights.
PJI works to hold prosecutors and courts accountable for violations resulting in injustice by exposing and addressing violations of constitutional rights in individual cases. While we cannot represent everyone who suffers injustice, we help prisoners gather the documents necessary to becoming their own advocates against injustice. We also provide representation and friend-of-the-court briefs in a limited number of cases.
Injustice serves no one. Innocent people languish in prison while the guilty go free. Bias in the prosecution of crimes results in disparate treatment of African-American, mentally ill, and intellectually disabled citizens. Ineffective defense representation deprives juries of facts necessary to reach just verdicts. The same is true when prosecutors deny the accused access to favorable evidence. The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly declared that Louisiana’s prosecutors have withheld evidence that may prove innocence.
Our work with prisoners is spearheaded by Calvin Duncan, whose talent and commitment earned him a 2013 Soros Justice Fellowship to carry out his mission. Mr. Duncan experienced the injustice of Louisiana’s criminal justice system first-hand, spending over 28 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Mr. Duncan now devotes himself to helping prisoners overcome barriers to challenging wrongful convictions by providing them with:
- Legal documentation
- Better-equipped prison libraries with up-to-date legal information
- Access to and review of police and district attorney files
Non-Unanimous Jury Project
By the time Louisiana 1898 Constitutional Convention convened, it was clear that African Americans could no longer be legally denied participation in criminal jury trials. But to continue the “supremacy of the white race,” laws were enacted to limit the effects of African Americans participation in criminal jury trials. Louisiana went from unanimous jury verdict system to non-unanimous system. Every State in the United States, in addition to the federal government, requires unanimous jury verdicts in order to convict a defendant, except Louisiana and Oregon. Louisiana’s racially-discriminatory-non-unanimous-jury-verdict system allows a defendant to be sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison based on a less them unanimous jury vote.
Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury verdict laws discriminate against African Americans.
Oregon’s non-unanimous jury verdict laws are both racist and anti-semetic.
What is being done?
Litigation is being taken to repeal Louisiana’s racial discriminatory non-unanimous jury verdict laws.
Presently before the U.S. Supreme Court is Dale Lambert v. Louisiana, No. 16-9132. In Lambert v. Louisiana, an Amicus Curiae Brief has been filed by Lewis & Clark Law School Criminal Justice Reform Clinic.
Other amicus curiae briefs filed in other cases:
Derrick Todd Lee v. Louisiana, No. 07-1523: Amicus Curiae Briefs filed by:
Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers;
American Bar Association;
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers;
Federal Public Defender for the District Court of Oregon;
Houston Institution for Race and Justice.
Corey Miller v. Louisiana, No. 12-162: Amicus Curiae Briefs filed by:
Constitutional Accountability Center;
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association
Ortiz T. Jackson v. Louisiana, No. 13-11055: Amicus Curiae Briefs filed by:
Innocence Project of New Orleans