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Kock Network Pushing Passage Of Louisiana Unanimous-Jury Law



BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A conservative organization funded by the Koch network launched a digital ad Monday aimed at ending Louisiana's law that allows split juries to convict people of serious felony crimes, an outreach effort that puts the group at odds with some of its usual allies.

Americans for Prosperity-Louisiana announced the online advertising campaign will be combined with direct-mail pieces and other outreach in support of the constitutional change on the Nov. 6 ballot that would do away with the Jim Crow-era law.

Currently, some serious felony trials in Louisiana, including some murder cases, can be resolved when 10 out of 12 jurors agree on a person's guilt. Louisiana and Oregon are the only two states that allow non-unanimous verdicts in felony cases. But even Oregon requires a unanimous verdict in murder trials.

Amendment 2 would require jury verdicts in Louisiana to be unanimous to convict someone in all felony cases.

Americans for Prosperity's 30-second online ad — set to music and without narration — targets libertarian-leaning and conservative voters with a focus on constitutional rights, saying Amendment 2 will "protect American freedom and liberty." It says Louisiana's current law makes it "easier to send innocent people to prison."

"Louisianans deserve a justice system that values, above all else, the rights of the accused in a jury trial. A system that places a higher value on conviction rates than the pursuit of the truth is a system that has no place in our society," John Kay, Louisiana state director of Americans for Prosperity, said in a statement.

The organization is the main political advocacy group for billionaire Charles Koch, who has supported criminal justice overhauls in several states, including Louisiana. With support of the unanimous jury amendment, along with the criminal-sentencing-law changes, the Koch network has diverged from some other high-profile conservatives in Louisiana, including Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry and several tough-on-crime district attorneys.

But Amendment 2 has drawn an unlikely, bipartisan coalition of support across the political spectrum, from conservative and religious groups to liberal activists.

The constitutional amendment required two-thirds support of lawmakers to reach the November ballot. When Sen. J.P. Morrell, a New Orleans Democrat, first proposed the idea, passage during the regular legislative session was seen as a longshot.

The legislation became the surprise measure of the session, reaching a public vote with widespread support from Democrats and Republicans, picking up steam each step of the process.

The proposal faced opposition from some district attorneys who stressed the difficulty of getting all 12 jurors to agree on a conviction and who said no data showed the current split-jury system results in injustice. No organized public opposition has emerged to work against passage of the amendment so far, however.

Supporters highlighted the split-jury policy's enactment in 1880 as part of efforts to maintain white supremacy after the Civil War, by making it easier to convict non-white defendants.

-by AP reporter Melinda Deslatte

 

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