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Race & Justice News: Louisiana’s Non-Unanimous Juries Disadvantage African Americans

April 23, 2018
On average, Louisiana sends one person to prison every five days on the decision of a divided jury—a practice that disproportionately impacts African Americans. Learn more in Race & Justice News.

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Only African Americans Arrested Under Mississippi Gang Law

From 2010 through 2017, everyone arrested under Mississippi’s gang law was black, reports the Jackson Free Press. According to the Mississippi Association of Gang Investigators, 53% of verified gang members in the state are white. However, the Administrative Office of the Courts confirmed that all 97 individuals arrested under the gang law between 2010 and 2017 were black. State Public Defender Andre de Gruy suggested that the state would benefit from a racial impact analysis of the existing law: “[A] provision could be crafted to review the racial impact annually.” A recent bill to increase penalties for gang-related crimes and gang recruitment, Senate Bill 2868, failed to win approval in a Mississippi Senate Committee in part due to concerns about its disparate racial impact. State Senator Brice Wiggins, the bill’s sponsor, dismissed concerns about racial disparities, saying: “It’s not a Republican, Democrat, black or white (issue).”

Columbus, Georgia Prosecutors Excluded Black Jurors from 1970s Death Penalty Cases

Columbus, Georgia prosecutors routinely excluded African Americans from juries in death penalty cases involving black defendants in the 1970s, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Describing them as “slow,” “ignorant,” “con artist” and “fat,” these prosecutors marked a “B” or an “N” next to prospective black jurors’ names on the jury lists. Whites were identified with a “W” and ranked as more desirable jurors. These practices were revealed in a motion filed on behalf of Johnny Lee Gates, who is now serving life without the possibility of parole for a 1976 rape and murder. Gates’ legal team is arguing for a new trial because these discriminatory practices prevented all four African Americans in the jury pool from being selected in his case, just as they excluded most black jurors in the six other death penalty cases involving black defendants in the 1970s.

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Prosecutors’ notes from Gates’ 1977 trial show that all four black prospective jurors, marked with an “N” in the notes, were struck. Each name also has a “1” to the left of it, indicating that prosecutors scored them as the least desirable. Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“Every person accused of a criminal offense has the right to a fair trial that’s free of race discrimination…Mr. Gates’s trial was undermined by race discrimination from the start” said Gates’ lawyer, Patrick Mulvaney. The Muscogee County District Attorney’s Office has argued that Gates’ claim should be rejected because he is relying on just seven capital cases and is not showing systematic exclusion of blacks “in case after case, whatever the circumstances, whatever the crime and whoever the defendant or victim may be.”

Black Defendants Disproportionately Convicted by Louisiana’s Non-Unanimous Juries

On average, Louisiana sends one person to prison every five days on the decision of a divided jury—a practice that disproportionately impacts African Americans. The Advocate’s analysis of nearly 41,000 prospective jurors in nine of the state’s busiest courthouses found that jury pools were whiter than their communities, with juries picked from them being whiter still. What’s more, the 10-2 rule for jury decisions—requiring only 10 jurors to reach an agreement for a conviction—systematically disadvantages black defendants. Among 933 felony trial convictions across six years, 43% of convictions came over the objections of one or two jurors when the defendant was black compared to 33% of convictions for white defendants. African Americans accounted for three-fourths of the convictions examined. “In a justice system dominated by plea deals,” reporter Jeff Adelson and colleagues explain, “thousands more Louisiana defendants take deals minimizing their prison time rather than risk the often massive consequences of a guilty verdict.”

The Louisiana Senate recently passed a bill that would place a constitutional amendment on the fall ballot for voters to determine whether to maintain the practice of non-unanimous juries. The only other state to allow split verdicts in felony cases, Oregon, demands unanimity for murder cases.

Jails in Indian Reservations Provide Inadequate Healthcare

Many federally funded jails in American Indian reservations lack in-house nurses or other medical staff, leaving corrections officers scrambling in emergencies “to determine whether to send an inmate to the hospital, or provide basic care themselves—sometimes with unfortunate consequences,” reports Mary Hudetz of The Associated Press. For instance, authorities at a jail in Tuba City, AZ (in the Navajo Nation) booked an individual with tuberculosis without a proper medical screening, which triggered an outbreak at the facility. When the jail was constructed, Lynette Bonar, the chief executive of a nearby hospital, recounts being told that “there were no federal dollars available for caring for them in house.”

For over a decade, the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General has urged the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to arrange for the Indian Health Service (a federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services) to post nurses inside the jails. The BIA, which manages about a quarter of all jails on reservations, and the tribes that have federal contracts to operate the rest all rely on Indian Health Services or tribal health clinics to provide medical care. Currently, “People aren’t really getting health care, and they’re not being screened for communicable diseases,” explained Bonar.

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