Earlier this year, in Ramos v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court made the landmark decision to declare non-unanimous jury convictions unconstitutional in state criminal trials. The decision represented a significant victory in the lengthy struggle to put an end to Jim Crow juries, originally instated to oppress and imprison Black people, resulting in countless wrongful convictions across the state of Louisiana and elsewhere. In spite of this monumental decision, the ruling, as it stands, does not apply to the more than 1,500 Louisianans who are currently imprisoned—many for the rest of their lives—after being convicted by a non-unanimous jury.
On December 2, 2020, the Supreme Court will hear argument in Edwards v. Vannoy, which will decide whether the ruling announced in Ramos applies retroactively. Meanwhile, Morrison & Foerster is one of 40 firms that has joined the Jim Crow Juries Project, launched by the Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI), to file court petitions on behalf of the 1,500 wrongfully incarcerated people. In each of the filings, lawyers ask the court for a new trial or to resentence the individual to time served. Under Louisiana law, the petitions must be filed within one year of the April 2020 Ramos decision.
According to Jamila Johnson, Managing Attorney of the Jim Crow Juries Project, applying the law retroactively is a critical step to restoring justice and healing the wounds inflicted by Jim Crow juries. “Jim Crow juries are systemic racism defined: a law written by white supremacists that continues to deprive thousands of predominantly Black Louisianans of their liberty,” said Ms. Johnson.
MoFo is currently collaborating with PJI to represent five clients on these petitions. The lawyers involved are litigation partners Demme Doufekias in Washington, D.C., David Fioccola and Ron White in New York, and Judson Lobdell in San Francisco, together with associates Lena Hughes, Malka Levitin, Kat Mateo, Natasha Menell, Mark Sobin, and Elnaz Zarrini in New York and Ken Sexauer in San Francisco, and paralegals Alfredo Chamorro and Matthew Franks.
Ms. Johnson adds, “We are thankful to the attorneys at Morrison & Foerster and all those who are contributing their time and resources to help us restore justice and finally put an end to shameful Jim Crow juries once and for all.”
Watch this video to see the inspiring, real life story of Edna Gibson, a domestic violence survivor who was convicted of second‑degree murder by a 10-2 non-unanimous jury in 1987 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, until the Governor of Louisiana commuted her sentence, granting her parole in 2020. Visit the Jim Crow Juries Project website to learn more.