A Friendly Reminder About A Constitutional Amendment That Might Affect Your Or A Loved One’s Life
By Kenneth Cooper
A funny thing happened this Spring, not funny as in oh my goodness my stomach hurts from laughing so hard funny, but funny as in: well ain’t that peculiar. Louisiana, a state known for its dedication to massively incarcerating its citizens, apparently decided to change its ways. No more, legislators stood in unison and declared, no more will we subject our citizens, mainly the black ones, to the whims of an unjust criminal justice system.
Quick recap: back in the days when black people were newly freed slaves, state legislators faced two dilemmas. 1) how could they recoup all the free labor they had just lost, and 2) what were they going to do about all those black people walking around talking about, “Hey we got equal rights too now.” The answer to both questions was simple: throw them in jail. The prison would become the new plantation and using non-unanimous juries to convict somebody of a felony would become the quickest and easiest way to get them there.
116 years later, thanks to the foresight of those legislators, and the policies of former president Bill Clinton, the state finally realized the full repugnance of its position. On a world stage amongst other deplorable states and 3rd world countries our present president would call shit holes, Louisiana and Louisiana alone was awarded the infamous designation as the prison capital of the world. Eventually Louisiana also realized it was a designation it couldn’t afford. Since then, the state has experimented in privatizing prisons to cut costs and just letting people out of prison.
Eventually that paid off. Earlier this year, in an announcement that would’ve had its forebearers reaching for the nearest noose and torch, the state declared that it had reached its lowest prison rate in 20 years. It also left for jurors to decide whether it should continue its non-unanimous jury policy.
In court for serious cases, the jury, ideally, is supposed to reach a verdict as one body, one mind. Only here and in Oregon do the courts allow a form of schizophrenia to determine whether someone is convicted of a felony or not. Here, it takes only 10 out of 12 jurors to convict someone of a felony and subject them to hard time.
Our founding fathers, those people conservatives love to fetishize, the ones who owned slaves, treated their wives as property, and…anyway, even those founding fathers despite all their hypocrisy recognized that citizens needed to be protected from an abusive and unjust government, which is why much of the constitution is dedicated to the rights/protections citizens possess, one being a trial by jury instead of a state trial.
On November 6th (yeah it’s about two months away, but we’ll remind you) citizens will be able to right a historical wrong. On the ballot, will be a question that goes a little something like this:
Do you support an amendment to require a unanimous jury verdict in all noncapital felony cases for offenses that are committed on or after January 1, 2019?
If you are about justice, if you are about ensuring that prosecutors have to actually prove their felony cases beyond a reasonable doubt, then vote yes. If not, do us all a favor and stay home.