Yesterday, Louisiana voters cast their ballots in favor of Amendment 2, passing a law that will require a unanimous jury on all felony convictions. As a result of this historic win, which puts to rest a 138-year-old law, Louisiana will join 48 other states in requiring a unanimous jury.
“This is a huge moment for criminal justice reform in the South,” says VOTE Executive Director Norris Henderson. “From community conversations, to the Legislature, and finally to the ballot, we’ve put all our efforts into passing this law, and I couldn’t be prouder.” After a split 10-2 jury wrongfully found him guilty, Henderson himself spent almost 28 years at Angola State Penitentiary for a crime he did not commit.
Since the summer, Henderson has led the Unanimous Jury Coalition (UJC), an unlikely group of bipartisan supporters of the unanimous jury law. The UJC collectively represents more than 30 organizations, including Innocence Project New Orleans, the Promise of Justice Initiative, and Southern Poverty Law Center. It also includes individuals such as Ed Tarpley, former District Attorney of Grant Parish, and Robert Jones, who was exonerated in 2017 for four separate crimes.
Louisiana currently leads the country in wrongful convictions. More than 40 percent of all of those who have been recently exonerated were mistakenly found guilty by non-unanimous juries. Though today’s victory is one of many steps necessary to achieve total criminal justice reform in the state and nation, it is a big one. The presence of a unanimous jury law will reduce the rate of wrongful convictions statewide, and send a strong message that the time for criminal justice reform is now. Though the UJC will disband now that Election Day has passed, the political energy generated through its work will continue.
"This work is far from over," says Henderson, "especially considering this year we also won voting rights for the majority of Louisiana citizens on probation and parole.”
VOTE, the Power Coalition and other key criminal justice reform organizations are hosting a candidate forum on November 14th, when questions about Act 636, effective March 1st, 2019, will surely be a hot topic. Kyle Ardoin (R) and "Gwen" Collins-Greenup (D) are in a run-off election for Secretary of State, which will be on Dec. 8th. Early Voting begins November 24th.
“Who this new Secretary of State will be, and how they decide to support or obstruct the new law, will have a lot to say about our democracy moving forward," says Henderson.
The forum will be held at 2022 St. Bernard Ave. from 6 - 8pm. To attend, RSVP at: bit.ly/votecanforum.
VOTE is also raising funds to propel this work forward. Our goal is to raise $30,000 in the next 30 days. Please make a donation today--every dollar counts!