Legislation to Provide a Pathway Out of Prison for Those Convicted Non-Unanimously Defeated
Legislation that would have provided a pathway to parole or retrial for the 1,500 Louisiana inmates convicted non-unanimously with settled cases is defeated in a House committee 7-5.
New Orleans Representative Jason Hughes called for committee members to back the bill by LaPlace Representative Randall Gaines. Hughes said Louisiana voters and the US Supreme Court already deemed non-unanimous verdicts unconstitutional going forward, and that decision should be made retroactive.
“It is never too late to do the right thing and we have an obligation as lawmakers to do the right thing and we have an opportunity to do the right thing today,” said Hughes.
Earlier this month the Supreme Court ruled that states are not mandated to retry settled non-unanimous convictions, leaving this bill as the one hope for the year by criminal justice reform advocate that those 1,500 inmates would get legal relief.
Promise of Justice represents two-thirds of the 1,500 people in jail on non-unanimous convictions. Lawyer Jamila Johnson said those convictions were part of a racist policy citing stats showing that while 33% of the state is Black and 66% of prisoners are Black 80% of their non-unanimous clients are Black, and their convictions were riddled with problems.
“Very often there is no witness testimony, there is no forensic testimony, there are witnesses who say they are not sure that the person is the person who committed the crime,” said Johnson who added 34% of the 1,500 inmates have been in jail since before 2000.
In its ruling that deemed non-unanimous verdicts unconstitutional the Supreme Court agreed that Louisiana’s non-unanimous felony convictions law was rooted in racist Jim Crow policy.
No one spoke against the bill in committee but it is opposed by the District Attorneys Association who say 1,500 retrials would be difficult, costly, and harm victims.