When Glenn Davis of Louisiana was 19, he was sentenced to life in prison for murder without the possibility of parole even though the jury deciding his fate did not agree on his guilt. Because of a Jim Crow-era statute, a Louisianan can be convicted of a felony and sentenced to prison, including life without parole, on a 10-2 or 11-1 verdict, reports the Los Angeles Times. Across the U.S. federal courts and 48 states require juries to be unanimous in felony verdicts. Louisiana is the only state to allow nonunanimous verdicts in murder trials. Only one other state, Oregon, allows split-jury verdicts in felony cases. Louisiana adopted the split-jury rule in 1880 after the 14th Amendment guaranteed all men, including former slaves, the right to vote and serve on juries.
Over the last decade, activists and attorneys have unsuccessfully filed more than 20 petitions to the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the rule on behalf of Louisiana inmates. The law could soon be overturned. On Nov. 6, residents will be able to amend the state constitution and require juries to return unanimous verdicts in felony cases. Advocates for changing the law say the split-verdict rule has long made Louisiana one of the world’s prison capitals, and that the law has a disproportionate impact on minority defendants. In a review of nearly 1,000 Louisiana felony trials from 2011 to 2016, The Advocate found that about 40 percent of convictions by 12-member juries had one or two holdout jurors. Black defendants were 30 percent more likely to be convicted than white defendants. In Davis’ case, he was locked up on the basis of testimony from a single eyewitness with a history of drug abuse and a long criminal record. His conviction was overturned after Innocence Project New Orleans found the state had hidden evidence that linked another man to the crime.