May 31, 2018

Louisiana Jury Legislation

ABA President Hilarie Bass expressed the association’s opposition May 11 to legislation pending in Louisiana that would effectively remove jury polling results in criminal cases from timely public access. In a letter to Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, Bass explained that while the legislation, HB699, would continue the practice of allowing the court clerk to poll the jury after a verdict is rendered if requested to do so, the bill would eliminate oral polling and relegate polling records to being sealed on court order and not released to the public without a subsequent order of the court. In addition, the names of jurors would be redacted. “The presumption, therefore, becomes secrecy, not transparency, for jury polling in criminal cases,” Bass wrote. She cited the ABA Principles for Juries and Jury Trials and ABA Criminal Justice Standards on Trial by Jury, which both call for polling of jurors individually and provide that if the poll discloses that there is not the level of concurrence required by applicable law, the jury may be directed to retire for further deliberations or may be discharged. The Commentary on the Principles and Standards explains that the purpose of the poll is “to determine, before it is too late, whether the jury’s verdict reflects the conscience of each of the jurors ….”  She said that HB699 is inconsistent with transparency and timeliness, which are important criteria that are “essential elements of a fair and open criminal trial.” The Louisiana Legislature also passed a bill of interest to the ABA that would allow voters to decide in the upcoming Nov. 6 elections whether to amend the state constitution to require unanimous verdicts for all criminal convictions for crimes occurring on or after Jan. 1, 2019. The current constitution allows conviction with a 10-2 jury decision. The association’s jury Principles and Standards state that jury decisions should be unanimous. In addition, ABA policy also opposes less-than-unanimous verdicts in federal criminal cases, and urges all federal, state, and territorial governments that impose capital punishment, and the military, to require that a jury must unanimously recommend or vote to impose a sentence of death. Both bills were approved by the state legislature. HB699 is on the governor’s desk, and SB243, which has been signed by the speakers of the House and Senate, is expected to reach the governor shortly.

Back to the May 2018 Washington Letter