Annual Meeting

Louisiana, Oregon should require unanimous juries for felony convictions, ABA House urges

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Only two states, Louisiana and Oregon, permit felony convictions by a less than unanimous vote. At Monday’s meeting, the ABA House of Delegates voted to urge those states to end the practice, raising concerns about how well it serves justice.

The resolution was moved in the House by Judy Perry Martinez of Louisiana, who is also the association’s president-elect nominee. She noted that Louisiana adopted its nonunanimous jury policy with its 1898 constitution, which was expressly designed to “establish the supremacy of the white race.” Today, she said, one study showed that African-American defendants were 30 percent more likely to have been convicted by a nonunanimous jury. Louisiana is considering a constitutional amendment to require unanimous juries, she said, but the state’s attorney general, Jeff Landry, has publicly opposed it, saying the current situation is quicker and easier.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I know that you don’t choose quick and easy over justice,” said Martinez, of counsel to Simon Peragine Smith & Redfearn in New Orleans. “I urge you to vote in favor of Resolution 100B.”

The only other speaker on the resolution was Vanessa Nordyke, president of the Oregon State Bar, also speaking in favor. She said her state’s nonunanimous jury provision also had a history tainted with racism; it was adopted after a case when one holdout prevented the conviction of a Jewish man accused of killing a Protestant at a time of anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic sentiment. She noted that the resolution has the support of Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and argued that requiring unanimous juries ensures that minority views are addressed.

“Allowing holdouts is not just a safeguard; it encourages discussion and ensures that all views from all jurors are considered,” said Nordyke, an assistant attorney general for the state. “For all these reasons, the Oregon State Bar is proud to support this resolution.”

Resolution 100B passed without audible opposition.

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