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Senate bill requires unanimous jury decision for convictions

BATON ROUGE, La. (LOCAL 33) (FOX 44) - A bill that seems to be gaining momentum and making it's way through the Legislature would raise the bar for criminal convictions in our criminal district courts.

Wednesday lawmakers advanced a proposal that would require juries to be unanimous in their decision to convict or exonerate. 

Currently in Louisiana, and for most criminal trials, a 12 man jury can convict with only 10 jurors agreeing to convict. 

Proponents of this bill say only Louisiana and Oregon still do this, and it's time for change. 

Senate Bill 243 was brought before the House Committee on Criminal Justice by Senator J.P Morrell, where it was the focus of some passionate and at times contentious debate which touched on racism. 

Some district attorneys from other areas of the state opposed the bill, and told the committee that under this bill, a conviction could be lost simply because of one juror with an agenda. 

Senator Morrell argued that the unanimous jury cuts both ways, it also requires all 12 people to exonerate someone, and both of those burdens should be difficult. 

"You don't want a rubber stamp jury, you know where they do that? China," said Morrell. 

Ed Tarpley, a former District Attorney from Alexandria spoke in favor of Morrell's bill, and calls the passage a huge victory and a repeal of Jim Crow era law. 

"The origins of this law are odious and shameful, it goes back to 1880 near the Post-Reconstruction Era.  It was a part of the Jim Crow legal regime that was passed in the 1880's and 1890's, so there's no question about the past, it's shameful, it's something that no one in Louisiana is proud of. That by itself should be enough reason to want to change the law," said Tarpley. 

If signed into law, the revision would not be applied retroactively, so someone convicted under the 10/2 decision rule would remain convicted. 

The bill now heads to the House floor, where more debate is expected. 

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