John Legend calls for the end of racist non-unanimous jury convictions in Louisiana
Singer/songwriter/producer John Legend recently wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post calling for the removal of non-unanimous juries from the State of Louisiana’s Constitution. At present, Louisiana and Oregon are the only two states in America where a person can be sent to prison without the unanimous vote of a jury.
Legend cites the constitutional convention of 1898, during which measures were passed with the express intent to further the interests of white supremacy—essentially a direct quote from the convention—to argue that non-unanimous juries still furthers white supremacy by legally countering federal mandates that allowed Black people to serve on juries.
As Legend notes, the logical result of such an arrangement is a justice system which results in systematic injustices. These injustices are reflected in a review of a thousand cases from the New Orleans Advocate, which uncovered that 40% of verdicts delivered by juries were not unanimous.
Legend also brings up the trial and subsequent conviction of then 17-year-old Kia Stewart, who was convicted based on a single eyewitness who was mistaken in their account. Despite two jurors, one of whom was Black, finding her not guilty, Stewart was still convicted. It was only after the Innocence Project investigated 18 witnesses following a confession by the guilty party that Stewart’s conviction was overturned. By this time she had already served 10 years in federal prison.
In November, there will be a measure on the Louisiana ballot asking voters if they support an amendment to the Louisiana state constitution that will make unanimous jury verdicts mandatory for all criminal cases. According to Legend’s account, the Louisiana Democratic, Republican, and Libertarian parties have all come forward and endorsed the amendment ahead of the ballot measure.
As Legend says in his close to the op-ed, “Ending the 10-2 jury rule in Louisiana will not solve the issue of mass incarceration or dismantle white supremacy, but it will deal a significant blow to both… It’s time to come together, reject prejudice in all its forms and build a future in which everyone is valued and supported. The 1898 constitutional convention was about denying voice to the expression of all of Louisiana’s citizens. This ballot question in November is about giving Louisiana her voice back.”