Louisianans have overwhelmingly approved Constitutional Amendment No. 2, meaning that all felony convictions in Louisiana will now require a unanimous guilty vote from all twelve jurors. The amendment enjoyed bipartisan support, and passed with a resounding 64% of the vote.
In approving the amendment, Louisiana voters abolished a law dating back to 1898, and brought Louisiana in line with every other state in the US; other than Oregon. The amendment will not take effect immediately, and will only apply to crimes committed on or after January 1, 2019.
The original bill which was introduced by state Sen. JP Morrell, did not initially appear to have much chance of passing. However, strong bi-partisan support for the bill ultimately carried the day, and allowed the amendment to go to Louisiana voters. In fact, a number of lawmakers acknowledged that they had not planned on voting for the bill until they heard the arguments of Republican Senator Dan Claitor, a former assistant district attorney.
Sen. Claitor acknowledged that when he served as an assistant district attorney in the 1980’s, there was a practice of filing more severe felony charges in order to avoid having to get a unanimous verdict which have would have been be required for a conviction on the lesser charges which have a juror of only six and required a unanimous verdict. In essence, he explained that district attorney’s were so concerned about avoiding a unanimous verdict requirement, that they would perform an end run to avoid it.
The bill, and ultimately the proposed amendment, were strenuously opposed by most of the state’s district attorney’s who attempted to spin the amendment as a danger to public safety by allowing criminals to go free.
However, Louisianans saw through that fear mongering, and recognized that the amendment instead merely recognized the full extent of one our most important constitutional protections, requiring that a defendant be found to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and not by 10 jurors out of 12.