NEW ORLEANS — District Court Judge Arthur Hunter ruled in an
early February murder trial that Louisiana’s law requiring only 10
of 12 jurors to make the same conclusion about a defendant’s guilt
is not — as defense attorney Colin Reingold characterized it — a
However, not everyone in the legal community agrees.
Reingold, a public defender, argued that the law was designed to
marginalize black jurors and infringed on the rights of his client.
In his arguments before the court, according to a Feb. 9 report
by The Advocate, Reingold said the law is "a stain on our state
and should be an embarrassment to all citizens of Louisiana ... the
only place in the country where you can go away for life when two
people have reasonable doubt about your guilt."
Oregon is the only other state that does not require a unanimous
verdict in a murder case, The Advocate reported
on Feb. 7.
Reingold’s client, Christopher Lee, 26, is accused of murdering
Chad Huth during a home invasion in 2010, according to The
Advocate. Lee faces
a retrial in April. He has been charged with second-degree murder,
aggravated battery, and attempted second-degree murder, The Advocated
on March 23, 2016.
In the March 2016 trial, the jury deadlocked and Lee was not
convicted. There five black jurors in the first trial; four of them
voted for conviction, The Advocate reported.
Hunter disagreed, stating
in his written opinion, "The court is well aware of the racism
of the time and attempts to disenfranchise minorities. The court does
not seek to ignore or downplay such a dark period in our history."
However, he felt that "recognizing and understanding the
racial animosity of the time is not enough to establish a
discriminatory motive" in regard to non-unanimous verdicts.
Hunter also noted in his written opinion that “Lee has failed to
meet the burden necessary to declare the laws establishing
Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury scheme unconstitutional. To meet
this burden, a defendant must bring more than an educated hypothesis
and reasoned conclusion.”
Loyola University College of Law professor William P. Quigley
disagrees with Hunter.
"Everything about criminal law in Louisiana has a strong
racial dimension,” Quigley told the Louisiana Record. “One
can certainly make a strong argument that a system born of racial
hatred continues to operate consistent with the structural racism
inherent in our criminal legal system."
that there was no racial animus in drafting the law and lawmakers
"stressed court efficiency in the enacting of this law."
Quigley said that obviously the original intent was simply to move
cases along faster.
"It is definitely faster to convict people if prosecutors do
not need unanimous approval,” he said.
Quigley strongly feels that there is racial bias in the state's
"Louisiana is only one of two of the 50 states that allows
convictions without unanimous jury decisions,” he said. “Tulane
professor Lawrence Powell has been telling us for years that this
rule was born as part of an overall post-Civil War effort to protect
white supremacy and put as many black men in jail as possible."
Quigley feels that law needs to change.
"Louisiana is the nation's leader in putting people in jail.
And Louisiana makes a lot of mistakes in putting the wrong people in
jail as well,” he said. “The Innocence Project estimated that
half of the wrongful convictions in Louisiana came from non-unanimous
juries. Going to unanimous juries is one way to reduce the number of
people going to jail, particularly innocent people."