Historian traces racist origin of Louisiana law allowing 10-2 jury verdicts

Historians in the News
tags: Jim Crow, Louisiana



This January, after an Orleans Parish jury heard the evidence against two men accused in the October 2012 killing of Marguerite La Joy Washington, an 18-year-old Dillard freshman, they voted 11-1 to convict Jeffrey Washington and 10-2 to convict Myron Jackson. Because at least 10 jurors agreed on each count, each man can now expect to spend the remainder of his life behind bars.

In October 2014, 10 of 12 jurors in another New Orleans murder trial agreed that 23-year-old Chevroun Smith shot 32-year-old Ali Robinson nine times on a playground. The dissent of two jurors didn't slow the rest of the panel down. The jury deliberated 90 minutes.

In August, Eroll and Tonya Victor were tried in St. John the Baptist Parish for the murder of their 8-year-old son, M.L. Lloyd III. The jury unanimously convicted the mother of manslaughter but voted 10-2 to convict the stepfather of second-degree murder.

Telly Hankton, who was called the most dangerous man in New Orleans, and Corey Miller, the rapper better known as C-Murder, were both sent away for life on 10-2 votes.

It's possible that if Louisiana required unanimity, jurors in the above cases would have kept deliberating until they all agreed on guilt. But in 48 of 50 states, a non-unanimous verdict means prosecutors didn't prove their cases beyond a reasonable doubt.

Why does Louisiana allow the accused to be convicted of felonies – even to be convicted of murder -- without all the members of a jury agreeing on their guilt? In "Jim Crow's Last Stand: Nonunanimous Criminal Jury Verdicts in Louisiana," Thomas Aiello says the law allowing such verdicts was crafted during the Jim Crow era. Passed in 1880, that law made it easier to feed emancipated black people into Louisiana's new privatized convict-leasing system.

Aiello is an associate professor of history and African American studies at Valdosta State University in Georgia. He says that although civil rights activists successfully fought for the removal of other noxious laws created immediately after Reconstruction, non-unanimous verdicts were mostly ignored because "they were localized to one southern state, and their assaults on minorities and the poor were more indirect than laws that specifically barred black customers from lunch counters. They were assumed to be simply another anomaly in the state with so many countless anomalies." ...




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