The Impact Of Louisiana's Jury Rule: Faster Justice For Some, But Injustice For Others?
Louisiana is the only state where a person can be sentenced to life in prison - without the possibility of parole - on a 10-2 verdict. And while some say the state’s non-unanimous jury system results in faster justice for victims, others say the rule is a threat to constitutional rights, and has sent innocent people to prison.
Doug DiLosa was beaten unconscious; his hands and feet bound by rope. When he came to, he yelled for his wife to call the police; he didn’t know she was dead.
The story made headlines. Eventually Kenner police identified him as the killer. DiLosa was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. The jury that convicted him didn’t all agree.
"They came back with a verdict of guilty, an 11 to one vote," DiLosa says.
A judge sent him to the State Penitentiary at Angola. But DiLosa has always maintained his innocence. And after he spent 14 years in prison, the State of Louisiana reversed his conviction because of prosecutorial misconduct.
DiLosa blames the jury system, in part, for all those years at Angola.
“There was certainly a reasonable doubt in that one person’s mind, and I went to prison because 11 people voted guilty," says DiLosa.
Just two states permit a defendant to be convicted by a non-unanimous jury. Oregon, and Louisiana. Everywhere else, a 10 to 2 or 11 to 1 verdict results in a mistrial, which means that the case can be tried again with a new jury, or the charges can be dropped.
Innocence Project New Orleans has worked with about a dozen clients who were convicted by non-unanimous juries, only to be found innocent years later. Jee Park is their policy director. She says the problem with Louisiana’s approach is that it lets jury deliberation move too fast - and sometimes, make mistakes.
"In a criminal trial the burden is on the state - it's beyond a reasonable doubt, right? And so if we had unanimous during those cases, these would have been juries that hung, and there would have been another go at it later on down the road," Park says.
So this is the question that Louisiana voters are deciding with Amendment Two: whether to change the state constitution to require juries to reach a unanimous verdict.
Scott Perrilloux is the District Attorney for Tangipahoa Parish. He thinks that - more times than not - the current system gets it right. He's one of 8 Louisiana District Attorneys who oppose changing the jury rule.
“Why would I support a change in the law which, in my opinion, will make it more difficult to achieve a just result? Justice - not convictions, but justice," Perrilloux says.
The Louisiana District Attorney’s Association didn’t take an official position on the jury issue, because it’s members aren’t all in agreement. But Perrilloux is among a handful of DA’s who believe changing the jury system could result in more mistrials - which slow down proceedings.
“I see victims in the system and victims families who patiently wait for delay after delay, and It’s tough to see that happen for victims and their families to wait years to get cases concluded and i see this as possibly delaying that even further," says Perrilloux.
Backers of Amendment 2 are concerned about the lingering effects of injustice in the present system. A jury convicted Doug DiLosa on an 11 to 1 vote - but his conviction was overturned. Years later, he says he still can’t find work.
“You say well I spent 14 years in a maximum security prison for second degree murder. But don’t let that bother you because I was actually innocent," DiLosa says. "How many people do you think call me back for a second interview?”
Letting juries convict felons even if they don’t all agree is an idea that came out of Reconstruction, and the rise of white supremacy after the Civil War; racism is at its core. But DiLosa, who is white, says the current system puts everyone at risk - regardless of education, finances, or the color of your skin.
“Don't think to yourself well it's not important to me because I'm not going to be on trial. I didn’t believe for a second it could happen to me," DiLosa says.
Constitutional Amendment Two is on the ballot this fall - and a simple majority could change the state’s non-unanimous jury rule.