By Checo Yancy and Will Harrell, J.D., LL.M.
The 2018 session was complicated and hectic. VOTE made truly historic gains by passing laws that positively impact formerly and currently incarcerated folks. We battled a very powerful law enforcement community that was able to block some best practice reforms that would have reduced prison and jail populations.
VOTE was at the capitol every day actively supporting 51 and opposing 36 of the nearly 120 criminal justice bills. We were also there to push for and fight against amendments to bills. This summary focuses on the critical pieces of legislation and takeaways from the session, as well as future opportunities to work together.
Key 2018 Legislative Developments
Unanimous Jury: On November 6, 2018 voters will go to the polls to amend the Louisiana Constitution to require unanimous jury decisions in felony cases. The previous law allowed for a 10-2 verdict to convict. This amendment will be a game changer for folks being prosecuted. Please get your family and friends registered to vote so that we can change the LA Constitution!
Right to Vote: LA Act 636 gives the right to vote back to people who have been on parole or probation for 5 years. If, however, in that 5-year window a person’s parole or probation is revoked and they are incarcerated, the 5 year clock will start all over again upon release. The law goes into effect on March 1, 2019. We need your help getting the word out!
Post-Adjudication Veterans Court Mentorship Program: The Veterans Association of Angola drafted a first-of-its-kind bill for VOTE to take to the legislature. It creates the veterans’ mentorship program. Veterans convicted and sentenced to 20 years or more may serve as mentors in the Veterans Court programs once they have served 10 years on their sentence and meet other requirements. If they mentor for 5 years, they will receive a favorable clemency recommendation and become eligible for parole.
We must build a statewide movement to amend the LA Constitution and demand that conviction of any felony only be decided by a unanimous jury of 12 peers.
Prosecutorial Accountability and Transparency: VOTE sought to create a statewide Commission on Prosecutorial Accountability to provide real oversight and accountability for prosecutorial misconduct though many detailed reporting measures. Because nearly every District Attorney in the state travelled to the Capitol to oppose the bills, we were only able to pass a House resolution to study the need for prosecutorial oversight.
2017 Justice Reinvestment Package: VOTE and the Louisianans for Prison Alternatives coalition (LPA) unsuccessfully tried to expand the impact of the historic 2017 criminal justice reform laws. We had to spend a significant amount of time preventing “roll backs” to the sentencing reform laws. We fought hard and stood firm to prevent much of that from happening. Judges and prosecutors were successful in changing the law that capped probation at 3 years to give judges the ability to add 2 more years to an individual’s probationary period.
Due Process Protection: Our friends at the Innocence Project were able to pass what is being hailed as a model eyewitness identification reform.
Juvenile Justice: Two significant juvenile justice bills passed. Together they expand the number of charges for which a juvenile can request a sentence modification, give broader discretion to judges to sentence juveniles prosecuted as adults and shorten lengths of stay in detention.
Medical Furlough: We eliminated the prohibition against medical furlough to people with convictions for second degree murder but lost the fight on prohibiting a medical furlough for anyone convicted of first degree murder.
We need people committed to working for common goals inside and outside.
NO SURRENDER, NO RETREAT!