LOUISIANA - In 2020 during the landmark case of Ramos v. Louisiana, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that non-unanimous jury verdicts were unconstitutional. A year later, inmates convicted on such juries may get a chance at a new trial.
More than 1,000 Louisiana inmates have filed for post-conviction relief following the decision of Ramos v. Louisiana. Jamila Johnson, managing attorney for the Promise of Justice Initiative Jim Crow Unanimous Jury Project says they wanted to make sure no one was left behind.
"The 1,049 post conviction relief applications that the Promise of Justice Initiative filed was in order to make sure that nobody was left behind because they couldn’t navigate the court process," Johnson said.
The more than 1,000 applications across 58 parishes would make this this largest post-conviction campaign in Louisiana history. Johnson says this monumental undertaking hasn’t been easy during the pandemic.
"So we really had to rely on phone calls, rely on written correspondents. I think our office received and responded to more than 10,000 letters over the last year," she said.
In post conviction, individuals don’t have the right to counsel or public defense. Johnson said it was important that they ensure these men and women have representation should they get new trials.
"For the majority of people who are in prison who can’t afford lawyers, we really had to step in to make sure that if a remedy is granted, that they have an opportunity to access that remedy," Johnson said.
Getting new trials will potentially come down to the outcome of another U.S. Supreme Court case, Edwards v. Vannoy, which would determine if the outcome of Ramos v. Louisiana applies retroactively.
"That case will be the supreme court’s decision about whether all of the men and women who remain in Louisiana’s prisons have the right to a new trial. However, if Edwards is not favorable, the state courts or the state legislation can still provide remedy to all of these men and women," Johnson said.
The state legislation currently has a bill that would provide a remedy to these men and women seeking post-conviction relief. House bill 346 makes it clear that someone convicted under the Jim-Crow Era law has the right to a new trial or the opportunity to go before a parole board.
The outcome of Edwards v. Vannoy is expected to be made by the U.S. Supreme court sometime in June.