LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 1, 2022
Several years ago, I ran for the Legislature and came in second to Randal Gaines. Since then, he has served his district, which includes most of St. John Parish, honorably and well. He’s nearing the end of his limited terms but continues to try to do what’s best, and what’s right.
Most recently he sponsored House Bill 1077, which would have set a path toward freedom for over 1,500 people unjustly held in Louisiana prisons. They were convicted by nonunanimous juries under a law that was approved by an all-white Legislature during the Jim Crow era. The Supreme Court recently declared nonunanimous verdicts unconstitutional – but only for people whose convictions were still under appeal. For those 1,500 people, the appeals process had already ended, so they weren’t included. They’re still in jail – often for nonviolent crimes.
Mr. Gaines’ bill would have created a panel of retired judges, DAs, and public defenders to review their convictions and make recommendations to a parole board which would have the final say. Unfortunately, legislators couldn’t decide whether the panel would consider just nonviolent offenders or all of them, and whether the panel’s recommendations had to be unanimous themselves. So Mr. Gaines pulled his bill from consideration. And that’s a shame.
I think it would have been better to settle on giving the panel power to consider only the nonviolent ones, and with requiring unanimous recommendations for clemency. In a world where there’s little unanimity on anything, we shouldn’t let the Perfect be the enemy of the Good. Better to have a half-full glass than an empty one.