The Louisiana legislature has decided to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot to allow voters to decide whether to require unanimous jury verdicts in criminal cases. Currently, Louisiana is one of only two states that allow for non-unanimous jury verdicts in criminal cases. As a trial attorney, I wholeheartedly support this move.
We specialize in trying civil cases to juries. When trying a civil jury trial, the standard for a jury to determine the results of the litigation is "more probable than not." That is, the plaintiff needs to prove that she is more correct than the defendant. In the civil arena, jury verdicts need not be unanimous, which is sensible as reasonable men may disagree on something that is more likely than not.
In contrast, in criminal cases, prosecutors must prove the guilt of a defendant "beyond a reasonable doubt." Currently, the law in Louisiana is that only 10 out of 12 jurors need to agree that the prosecutor proved a defendant is guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt". By creating a system where almost 20% of the jurors can disagree that a prosecutor has met this burden, yet a defendant can be found guilty, we necessarily ignore the standard of proof. That is, we have to accept that the almost 20% of the seated jurors are unreasonable people with unreasonable doubts. This is not only an absurd premise, but it also produces absurd results. Statistics show that roughly 40% of people are convicted in jury trials with non-unanimous juries - that is, 40% of the people Louisiana is sending to prison would be acquitted if their trial took place in another state. That includes people who are sent to spend their entire life in prison without parole. Put simply, this is not how criminal justice should work.
This will likely be placed on the ballot on November 6.
- Megan C. Kiefer is a partner and trial attorney at Kiefer & Kiefer, who specializes in civil litigation.
This is being provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice.