October 26, 2021

Much represented the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance (LFAA) in filing an amicus brief in the Supreme Court of Louisiana arguing that the Court should address the question of whether Ramos v. Louisiana, which held that non-unanimous jury verdicts are unconstitutional, should be applied retroactively. Steve Blonder, principal in the firm's Litigation & Dispute Resolution group, led the project, working with principal Bob Neiman and new associate Charlotte Franklin. The brief was filed on September 23 and continues Much’s tradition of defending the rights of marginalized people.

The brief explains that in 1898, Louisiana State delegates added a rule to Louisiana's constitution that allowed non-unanimous jury verdicts. This rule, the brief continues, was a covert way to disenfranchise Black jurors as well as imprison more people to add to the convict leasing system, in which the state profited from the free labor of imprisoned people. The rule was one of several Jim Crow measures implemented in Louisiana's constitution.

Split juries were allowed in Louisiana until 2019, when a constitutional amendment requiring unanimous verdicts for cases involving prospectively committed crimes was adopted. In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Ramos v. Louisiana, which held that non-unanimous jury verdicts are unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court soon had an opportunity to apply Ramos' unanimity rule retroactively in a different case but found that the rule "does not apply retroactively on federal collateral review."

Steve Blonder, who also serves as chair of the firm's social responsibility initiative, Much Community, said, “It's an honor to partner with LFAA to work toward civil rights for all, especially on this crucial issue. The Louisiana exoneration and conviction data make clear that a non-unanimous jury is a jury empowered to put an innocent person behind bars.”

The brief points to a significant racial justice component of the matter. According to data cited in the brief, Black people make up approximately 32 percent of Louisiana's population but almost 70 percent of the state's incarcerated felons. Non-unanimous juries put defendants at a significantly higher risk of being wrongly convicted or over-convicted than unanimous juries do, and Black defendants are 30 percent more likely than white defendants to be convicted by non-unanimous juries. Before the Ramos decision, approximately 1,600 people in Louisiana were found guilty by non-unanimous juries. The brief argues that because Ramos is not currently retroactive, those individuals are deprived of their right to a unanimous jury verdict, and they cannot challenge their convictions.

The Much team represented the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance, an organization that works for systemic change and racial equity in the law. LFAA facilitates the coordination of its alliance firms to use the law as a vehicle for change that benefits underserved and oppressed communities. The Much team awaits a response from the Supreme Court of Louisiana on this important systemic issue.

View the brief. 

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