Louisiana Supreme Court: People sent to jail by racist jury rule not owed new trials

The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled Friday morning in the case of Reddick v. Louisiana denying some 1,500 people who are still in prison the right to a constitutional hearing.

"This decision will be remembered as a grave misstep in Louisiana history," the Promise of Justice Initiative said in a statement.

On May 10, 2022, the Louisiana Supreme Court heard arguments from the Promise of Justice Initiative and the Louisiana State Attorney General's Office in the case of Reddick v. Louisiana.

Reginald Reddick from Plaquemines Parish was convicted by a nonunanimous jury in 1997 after a 10-2 vote found him guilty of second-degree murder. He was then sentenced to life in prison.

More: Louisiana Supreme Court hears arguments on those convicted by 'Jim Crow' juries

"What we're looking at is, why were Louisianans deprived of their constitutional rights, black or white," said Jamila Johnson, Deputy Director of PJI and counsel for Reddick during the May hearing.

The Reddick case argued that more than 1,500 people who remain incarcerated due to nonunanimous jury verdicts should have access to a legal remedy.

These verdicts were nicknamed “Jim Crow Jury” convictions because of the role that they played in implicitly working to maintain white supremacy in Louisiana.

On October 21, 2022, the state Supreme Court released its ruling stating, "we are mindful of the strong reliance interests at stake and the high administrative burden that many retrials of final convictions would impose on our justice system. We further note that in voting to amend the state Constitution to require unanimity in jury verdicts, the citizens of this state chose to do so with prospective effect only."

The vote was 6-1 with the court's only Black justice, Piper Griffin of New Orleans, dissenting.

The ruling, written by Justice Scott Crichton, also noted that the court refused to act as a "super-legislature by issuing a broader retroactivity approach than that approved by the voters of Louisiana, who amended the Constitution with prospective effect only,"

"We expressly note that the Legislature may determine that a broader subset of individuals are eligible for post-conviction relief. Likewise, the Governor has the power in individual cases to grant clemency under our state Constitution," Crichton wrote.

The ruling comes four years after the Louisiana voters chose to outlaw these juries, which disproportionally affected people of color. However, the law itself only applied to cases from 2019 forward.

In 2020 the US Supreme Court, in what has become known as the Ramos Ruling, specifically reversed the practice of split juries, but did not offer post-conviction relief for those already in jail who had exhausted their appeal process.

In their response to the ruling, PJI said, "The Court’s failure to remedy this injustice is a deep stain on our great state."

Read: Who gets a fair trial? Louisiana supreme court to decide fate of Jim Crow Jury convictions

Makenzie Boucher is a reporter with the Shreveport Times. Contact her at mboucher@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Shreveport Times: 15K inmates convicted by racist jury practice will not get new trials