Louisiana Supreme Court Case Could Give 1,500 People New Trials

PJI Deputy Director, Jamila Johnson (left), and Managing Attorney for the Jim Crow Juries project, Hardell Ward (right). Photo courtesy of the Promise of Justice Initiative

This week, the Louisiana Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a case that could determine the fate of around 1,500 people convicted by a non-unanimous jury.

On Tuesday, attorneys from the Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI) argued Reddick v. Louisiana. Mr. Reginald Reddick was found guilty 10-2 in a nonunanimous jury conviction in 1993, but in April 2020 the US Supreme Court determined that nonunanimous jury verdicts were unconstitutional, but declined to make the decision retroactive. A Louisiana district court threw out Mr. Reddick’s conviction last August – but Louisiana Attorney Jeff Landry is seeking to reinstate that non-unanimous conviction.

“Our brother Reggie is not guilty. He has spent the last 30 years in prison for something he did not do. We are hopeful that with the grace of God, Reggie is coming home to us,” said Charlene Reddick, Mr. Reddick’s sister.” He lost his little girl to a fire, his son grew up without him. It has been very hard for all of us. Our brother is a sweet person, he always cared about people. He is not a violent person. He never did what they claimed he did.”

PJI Client Reginald Reddick. Photo courtesy the Promise of Justice Initiative

After Reconstruction, Louisiana delegates created the rule allowing nonunanimous jury convictions, saying, “Our mission was, in the first place, to establish the supremacy of the White race in this State.” The rule was crafted to ensure that even if there were two or three Black jurors, a prosecutor could reliably obtain a conviction over their objection.

In spite of the racial nature of the rule, attorneys for the state have argued that their desire to uphold nonunanimous convictions has no basis in race.

“The State’s interest in the finality of its non-unanimous verdicts is overwhelming and untainted by racial discrimination,” they argued, saying that even if the 1,500 people currently incarcerated under non-unanimous verdicts could be granted new trials, it would be impossible for prosecutors to retry their cases.

“Evidence deteriorates, memories fade, and witnesses become unavailable over time. It will be difficult – if not impossible – for the State to retry these cases,” they wrote.

PJI attorneys hope that the Louisiana Supreme Court will recognize that those convicted under the Jim Crow-era non-unanimous juries deserve a fair trial

“The Louisiana Supreme Court has a historic opportunity to not only be on the right side of history, but also the right side of the law,” said Jamila Johnson, deputy director at PJI and the attorney who argued Mr. Reddick’s case. “In the United States we believe that people are innocent until proven guilty: this is embedded in the rights within our Constitution and we work to uphold that principle as a state. We can fulfill the promise of justice and end what Justice Kavanaugh called the last Jim Crow Law in Louisiana.”

“The Louisiana Supreme Court has a chance to take a stand against the legacy of Jim Crow in our state, and offer the 1,500 Louisianans who remain incarcerated as a result of Jim Crow juries an opportunity for a fair verdict,” said Mercedes Montagnes, Executive Director of the Promise of Justice Initiative. “Convictions are constitutionally required to be decided by a unanimous jury of 12 peers. It’s past time for our 1,500 community members convicted by non-unanimous juries to get a fair shot at justice.”

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