Lambert v. Louisiana - PJI Fights to End Discriminatory Non-Unanimous Juries

Louisiana and Oregon are the only two states that support convictions from non-unanimous juries. Prosecutors only need to persuade 10 out of 12 jurors to secure a felony conviction that doesn't involve the death penalty. 

These jury systems are a direct vestige of a history of white supremacy and oppression. Lambert v. Louisiana gives the Supreme Court the opportunity to reverse this historical racism in favor for more egalitarian and fair jury systems. 

Louisiana leads the nation, and the world, in incarceration.  Per capita, it leads the country in wrongful convictions and exonerations.  While non-unanimous juries may not be the sole cause, the Promise of Justice Initiative believes that the lack of unanimity undermines confidence in the administration of justice.  We believe that the 10-2 verdict is a lasting monument to – as well as a daily resurrection of – the time when the State had no interest in preserving and protecting the rights of African-American citizens.   

The Washington Post's recent article These Jury Systems are Vestiges of White Supremacy emphasizes the racist background of non-unanimous juries: 

In Louisiana: "The historical reasons behind the jury systems in Louisiana and Oregon offend our democratic values. Louisiana required unanimous verdicts when it became a territory in 1803, but non-unanimous verdicts were formally adopted as law during Louisiana’s 1898 constitutional convention, where lawmakers declared that their “mission was . . . to establish the supremacy of the white race.” At the same convention, Louisiana adopted literacy tests for voting and one of the South’s first “grandfather clauses,” which exempted white voters whose father or grandfather had previously voted from taking literacy tests.


Eliminating unanimity accomplished two things. First, the change paved the way for quick convictions that would facilitate the use of free prisoner labor as a replacement for the loss of free slave labor. Second, it ensured that African American jurors could not use their voting power to block convictions of other African Americans. An 1870 editorial in the New Orleans Daily Picayune posited that the recently emancipated were 'wholly ignorant of the responsibilities of jurors, unable to discriminate between truth and falsehood in testimony, and capable only of being corrupted by bribes.'"

In Oregon: "In Oregon, the 1934 change from a unanimous to a non-unanimous jury system targeted primarily ethnic and religious minorities. By the 1930s, the Ku Klux Klan found widespread acceptance in the state. Anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic sentiments peaked in 1933, when a jury failed to convict a Jewish man in the murder a Protestant man, instead handing down a verdict of manslaughter. The Morning Oregonian blamed the verdict on “the vast immigration into America from southern and eastern Europe, of people untrained in the jury system.” It then accused immigrants of making “the jury of twelve increasingly unwieldy and unsatisfactory.” The following year, Oregon passed a ballot measure to allow felony convictions based on a less-than-unanimous vote."


Learn more about PJI's work to end non-unanimous juries in Louisiana. 


News Conference: Federal Lawsuit on Behalf of California Family Alleges Widespread Neglect and Illegal Treatment of Mentally Ill in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison

WHAT: News Conference to Announce Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit in Prisoner Death

WHO: Members of the family, Attorneys, and VOTE

WHERE: Russell B. Long Federal Building, 777 Florida Street, Baton Rouge

WHEN: Wednesday, September 20th at 10:30 a.m.


On the Passing of Our Hero, Sam Dalton

Sam Dalton, a hero to us at the Promise of Justice Initiative, passed away on Tuesday, September 7th, 2017.

Sam was a renowned criminal defense and civil rights attorneys. From creating a model for public defender systems as the founding chairman of the Jefferson Parish Indigent Defender Board (1976-1999) to serving as defense counsel in 300 death penalty cases, Sam’s career has served as an inspiration to us all.  Both his words and actions helped to restore the balance between the powerful and the people and to ensure those with power are reminded of their humility.

Justice and civil rights reform in Louisiana would not be the same without Sam Dalton's incredible work. Our community has lost an incredible man and we hope to continue his legacy. He was a giant upon whose shoulders we all stand today. Last year, our own Ben Cohen was given the Sam Dalton Award, and as Ben Cohen perfectly summarized our feelings on Sam Dalton’s passing:

“The world will miss his fierceness.” 

We are all lucky to have come after Sam. 



PJI Running Team Runs New Orleans Track Club Summer Series

New Orleans has the largest population of incarcerated individuals per-capita of any city in the world. The Louisiana State Penitentiary, otherwise known as Angola, houses 6,300 men, and is a particularly brutal example of the failings of our criminal justice system.

PJI repeatedly hears reports from Angola about the inhumane conditions in which inmates live- from extreme temperatures to unconstitutional medical care. 

On July 12th, a group of eight legal interns, attorneys and paralegals represented PJI and ran the loop at Audubon Park to raise money for our Client and Family Assistance Project. The funds raised will be distributed to cover basic needs of these incarcerated individuals. The fundraising also helps support inmate families maintain a connection to their loved ones through visits and phone calls. 


PJI REPORT- Punished Protesters: Conditions in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison


CONTACT:  G. Ben Cohen: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Andrea Armstrong: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


NEW ORLEANS, LA The Promise of Justice Initiative’s newly released report, Punished Protesters: Conditions in East Baton Rouge Parish Prisonpresents a disturbing window in to the conditions of the East Baton Rouge Parish prison and the inhumane, punitive conditions endured by people arrested and detained in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison.

Reports from protesters arrested and detained during the 2016 protests of the killing of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge police officers highlight the inhumanity of the prison, including physical violence, denial of basic sanitation and medical care, and disregard of due process. The investigation made clear, not only that the conditions of confinement at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison are inhumane, but a level of cruel intentionality to the treatment of detained citizens.

The weekend following Mr. Sterling’s killing, thousands of people gathered in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to peacefully protest the murder of Mr. Sterling, as well as police brutality, primarily against African American men, across the nation. Somewhere between 180 and 200 civil rights demonstrators were arrested during the protests from July 8-10, 2016 Over 67% of these arrestees were African-American, and nearly 90% of those arrested were charged with obstruction of a highway. Most of the protesters were booked, processed, and held at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, sometimes for days.

Erica Navalance, principle author of the report, notes: “[T]he two most disturbing aspects of our investigation were 1) that those detained for minor infractions were forced to endure threats of brutal force and humiliation, 2) that it might actually be worse for those regularly arrested in East Baton Rouge on minor offenses, unable to make bond, when the whole world is not watching.”

Ben Cohen, Of Counsel at The Promise of Justice Initiative, observed that the treatment of protesters in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison in 2016 was “disturbingly similar to the treatment that African-American students endured in the early 1960’s, when civil rights advocates fought segregation in the city. It’s as if nothing has changed but the temperature.”

The Promise of Justice Initiative’s report details the conditions of the prison, the experiences of the arrested protesters, and the governing legal standards for detention of arrestees, based on more than a dozen interviews conducted on July 11th and 12th of 2016 and June 2017, in conjunction with prison policy manuals, local and national statistics, and independent investigations and studies into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison.