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‘The Jim Crow Convictions’: The History And Impact Of Non-Unanimous Jury Decisions

Brandon Jackson's case is the subject of a new documentary from Al Jazeera's "Fault Lines."
Brandon Jackson's case is the subject of a new documentary from Al Jazeera's "Fault Lines."

Non-unanimous jury convictions are no longer constitutional according to a 2020 Supreme Court ruling. But earlier this year, the court decided the decision does not automatically apply retroactively to old cases.

That’s why more than 1,500 people in Louisiana are still imprisoned on non-unanimous verdicts — a law that originated in the Jim Crow era to “reestablish the supremacy of the white race.” 

This includes the case of Brandon Jackson.

From Al Jazeera:

Brandon says he is innocent of robbing a restaurant at gunpoint, along with an accomplice, and taking more than $6,000 in cash. At his trial, two of the 12 jurors who heard the evidence against him agreed. After deliberation, they voted not guilty.

It didn’t matter. In Louisiana at the time, only 10 out of 12 jurors were required to agree on a verdict in order to convict or acquit someone of a crime. It was one of only two states in the country — along with Oregon — where non-unanimous verdicts were allowed. That has changed, and if Brandon were brought up on the same charges today, the split jury vote would mean a mistrial.

But in 1997, it meant a conviction.

Brandon, who had prior drug convictions, was sentenced to life in prison under the state’s habitual offender law. The sentence was later reduced to 40 years.

We talk about Jackson’s case and the lasting impact of Jim Crow laws in Louisiana.

Copyright 2021 WAMU 88.5

Kathryn Fink