Unanimous Jury Coalition Forms Ahead of Issue Two Election, Appoints Statewide Director

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 30, 2018
Contact: press@unanimousjury.org

Unanimous Jury Coalition Forms Ahead of Issue Two Election, Appoints Statewide Director


Baton Rouge -  Monday members of a newly formed statewide coalition announced their effort to inform voters ahead of a November 6th election that will impact how Louisiana jury verdicts are rendered at the Press Club of Baton Rouge as reporters gathered to hear former District Attorney Ed Tarpley support the measure. John Adams famously said:  “It is the unanimity of the jury that saves mankind.”  But in Louisiana, and Oregon, a vote of ten out of twelve is all that is needed. 

Following the passage of Senate Bill 243 by Senator Jean Paul Morrell (D - New Orleans) during the Regular Legislative Session which ended in June of 2018, Louisiana Voters will now decide whether the state should remain one of only two in the nation in which a citizen can be convicted of a non-capital felony by a non-unanimous jury. Constitutional Amendment two will appear on the ballot in November. 

Bipartisan support in the Louisiana legislature formed for the ballot initiative after lawmakers were presented with evidence that more than forty percent of all those who have been recently exonerated were (mistakenly) found guilty by non-unanimous juries. Louisiana's outlier status - only Oregon has similar jury procedures - also persuaded lawmakers to bring the issue to a vote of the people. In 48 other states all jurors must agree on whether a prosecutor has met the burden of proving guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Louisiana is the only state where someone can be sentenced to life in prison without parole without a unanimous decision of a jury in favor of that decision. 

The Unanimous Jury Coalition is a group of community-focused organizations working on voter education and registration across the state leading up to the November election. It will conduct a robust statewide effort to inform voters about Constitutional Amendment 2. 

The team announced Monday that Norris Henderson, the co-Founder and Executive Director of Voice Of The Experienced (VOTE) and formerly incarcerate person, convicted by a non-unanimous jury, will lead their effort for voter engagement as its Statewide Director. The decision to select Henderson was unanimous among Coalition members. “I’m proud to stand side-by-side with leaders from across the spectrum to get the information out to voters. Louisiana is an outlier. If 27% of people on a jury think you are innocent - even when there is that kind of serious reasonable doubt - you can still be convicted. And we’re one of only two states in America where that’s the case. We’re going to get the word out and remind people to vote on November 6," said Henderson. 

More announcements from the Coalition are forthcoming, so stay tuned. 

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INTERVIEWS

Members of the Coalition are prepared to go on the record to accommodate your coverage of this important issue, so please do not hesitate to reach out for print, television, or radio needs. 

BACKGROUND

Endorsements for Constitutional Amendment 2:

Louisiana GOP
"I along with our governing body believe that in criminal cases, the verdict of the jury should be unanimous.” - Andrew Bautch, executive director of the Louisiana GOP

Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Albany (Chair, House Criminal Justice)
“This is truly historic legislation.” - Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Albany

Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge
“Is 10 out of 12 good enough for your children? Is 10 out of 12 good enough for your wife? Is 10 out of 12 good enough for your neighbor?” - Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rougeand former prosecutor

Ed Tarpley, former district attorney
“It’s the unanimous jury of 12 citizens that makes a decision about whether to deprive someone of their liberty. It’s a powerful protection we have in our government.” - Ed Tarpley, a former district attorney of Grant Parish
 
Americans for Prosperity
“Unanimous juries are a hallmark of American jurisprudence and the standard in all states outside of Louisiana and Oregon. By advancing this bill, legislators have rightly reinstated the proper protection of Louisianans’ civil liberties. This is, beyond a reasonable doubt, the right thing to do.” - AFP-LA State Director John Kay
 
Louisiana Family Forum
“The framers of the Constitution clearly believed the constitutional right to trial by jury included unanimity. John Adams once said, ‘It's the unanimity of the jury that preserves the rights of mankind.’ Equity in our criminal justice system may require that Louisiana finally embrace the same standard called for by the founders, 48 other states, and all federal courts. 138 years is long enough.” - Gene Mills, president of Louisiana Family Forum
 
The Advocate Editorial Board
“...abandoning the need for jury unanimity in felony trials works against law and order. It holds Louisiana to a lesser standard of justice, which can only diminish the stature of the legal system.” - The Advocate Editorial Board

The Times-Picayune/NOLA.com Editorial Board
“Considering the awesome amount of power the state has to place a person behind bars, the state ought to be made to convince all the members of a jury of that person's guilt. People accused of crimes in Louisiana are no less deserving of a criminal justice process that puts a deliberately heavy onus on the state to prove that defendants are guilty.” - The Times-Picayune Editorial Board
 
The New York Times Editorial Board
“Here’s a hint: When 48 states and the federal government disagree with you, it’s worth considering the possibility that you might be wrong. ...Majority rule is good when it comes to the democratic process, but it’s not enough when someone’s constitutional rights and liberty are at stake.” - The New York Times Editorial Board


More on Norris Henderson: 

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A PHOTO OF MR. HENDERSON FOR USE IN PUBLICATION. 

Norris Henderson, a former Soros Justice Fellow, has had tremendous success in his work impacting public policy and public discourse about police accountability, public defense for poor and indigent people, and reforming the notorious Orleans Parish Prison (OPP). As someone who was wrongfully incarcerated for 27 years, Norris shares firsthand experience of racism and brutality of the criminal justice system with communities of Color across Louisiana. Norris is a frequent contributor to public discourse, regularly speaking publicly in support of underprivileged communities in New Orleans, and acting as a general liaison to other community organizations in the city. Since his release in 2003 Norris has applied his 27 years of self-taught legal expertise and community organizing skills to a number of leadership positions, including Co-Director of Safe Streets/Strong Communities and Community Outreach Coordinator of the Louisiana Justice Coalition. Norris serves on a number of organizations’ Board of Directors including Family & Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, and acts as Board President of the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights.

Members of the Unanimous Jury Coalition include: 

Promise of Justice Institute
Voice of the Experienced
VERA
Southern Poverty Law Center
Innocence Project New Orleans
Orleans Public Defenders
The Power Coalition
The Juror Project
Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana
Anti-Defamation League
Converge
Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana 

Dylan Waguespack