January 13, 2021
Last April, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the constitution prohibits non-unanimous jury verdicts in criminal cases. This came as particularly good news to Cardell Hayes.
Hayes was charged with second-degree murder in connection with the 2016 shooting of former New Orleans Saints football player Will Smith. Hayes, who claimed that the shooting was done in self-defense, was convicted of manslaughter, but two of the jurors voted to acquit. In every state but two, that would have resulted in a hung jury. Until the Supreme Court’s ruling, Louisiana and Oregon, however, permitted convictions if as few as 10 of the jurors voted to convict. (According to surveys done in the wake of the decision, most of the defendants who are convicted by split-jury verdict are Black; indeed, in its decision, the Court wrote the avowed purpose of the provision was to “establish the supremacy of the white race”).
Yesterday, in light of its April decision, the Supreme Court vacated Hayes’ conviction. The matter will return to the trial court, where the local prosecutor will need to decide whether to re-try Hayes.
The good news for Hayes is that the original verdict — by which the jury tossed the second-murder charge — acts as double jeopardy against any attempt to re-try him on that more serious charge.
Meanwhile, there are approximately 1,600 inmates in the Louisiana prison system who were convicted by something less than a unanimous jury.