The following article is a guest post, written by someone who is currently located at Louisiana’s state penitentiary.
The author of this article is currently serving a life sentence, having until very recently been on death row for the last twenty years. He was 18 when convicted: he is now 38.
He reached out to me because this subject he covers in the following article is something he is deeply passionate about. To start with, he will tell you a little about himself and his story: and then he will proceed to his subject matter, which concerns the racist jury laws in Louisiana and their direct effect on the black population in particular.
Articles have been written before on the racist nature of these laws and their historical connection to the slave trade and plantations, with some arguing that this prison industrial complex is essentially a modern plantation system – or merely slavery enduring by another name. But this guest author’s personal experience and perspective makes his voice highly important in discussing this subject.
The text below is in his own words – I, as much possible, have avoided editing or interfering with his message. At the bottom of the article is included contact details for anyone who wishes to reach out to him.
Being a 38 year-old white male from the deep south of Louisiana has had some amazing perks. The amazing seasoned food, Mardi Gras, our down to earth and hospitable culture, music, and our dialect in how we talk is just unique.
We love sports and fishing with a passion. It’s just different and it’s like even when a warm breeze blows, our body tends to move with the flow as if we are in unison with the vibrations and energy of the elements.
Sadly, we also have a darkness in the south that has plagued us for a very long time – the old burning flame of bigotry and racism.
I’m currently in the Louisiana State Penitentiary called “Angola”: yes, it’s named after a country in Africa, and let’s be honest… it’s a plantation.
To give you some background of myself, I’d like to first express my gratitude for having parents who have always loved me dearly and taught me to respect people no matter what they looked like, what they believed (even if it was contrary to what I believed), and to have principles and morals about myself.
I grew up in a modest sense. We weren’t dirt poor, but kinda below middle-class at one point. At the age of 11, I suffered severe head trauma as I had a bad run in with an iron pole at school while I was running because a girl my age was chasing after me while playing. Back then, there wasn’t much talk about how concussions effected the brain, especially when there’s damage to the frontal lobe area that deals with impulse control and a person’s mood.
Today, there are much more studies on brain injuries caused by concussions as real brains from ex-football players have been donated to medical science. After that injury, my moods changed drastically and I would stay up all night at times without sleep or at times I would sleep too much. I would get depressed easily and it would be difficult to get out of it.
I was young and I didn’t fully understand what I was feeling or how I was feeling. I would get overly emotional over trivial things that normal people shouldn’t get emotional over. I started doing terrible in school with bad grades as I couldn’t concentrate or understand. Further on into my teens I started doing drugs and that’s when things became worse for me.
Having a brain trauma and using drugs just doesn’t do well for the brain at all. It’s like driving a car with no brakes while intoxicated in the dark.
To make a long story short, three months after my 18th birthday, I was arrested for murder and later sentenced to death by lethal injection.
I was arrested in 2002 and shipped to death row in 2004.
This year my sentence was commuted to life and I’m very grateful for all of my lawyers who fought for me and by my side to save my life. I’m very grateful and lucky to have had some great legal teams who didn’t give up the fight.
Over the years it has been tough of course.
I still battled depression and anxiety so I made a choice to see a mental health doctor who prescribed meds to help balance my moods and I started to feel normal. I felt like a totally different person. I had the opportunity to mature and learn and that I did even tho I was locked in a cell on death row for so many years.
I achieved in my education as I graduated with a diploma by passing the G.E.D. which is now called the “high set.” I graduated multiple classes like anger management and classes that teach life skills to become a better person in every aspect.
I know some people will still say that I deserve to die by lethal injection for killing someone and I don’t argue with their opinion… I’m just grateful to be alive so I can be in a position to help other people for the better.
Maybe I don’t deserve to be breathing for the pain I’ve caused: and for that, I am truly sorry. I think of that everyday and I have to live with that guilt.
Today I am passionate about reform, rehabilitation (inside the prison gates and outside of them), and helping people see that change for the better can open up your heart and mind to so much beauty.
Those, my friends, are the facts about who I was and who I have become.
This article that I sit here to write is not about all of that though: I just thought it would be only fair to let you inside of who I am and give you some of my background before I get to the subject of this article.
Louisiana is in the south, where slavery was burning through the state like a wild fire on steroids. Even after the abolishment of slavery, the Jim Crow mentality remained and still remains a smoldering ember of hot hate.
And the evidence of this is still clearly found in our laws in Louisiana.
Some would make a case that we are far passed the racist days and point to how we have had a black president in America. And I would admit that we have made some progress: but if you look clearly enough behind all the beautification of the language of the law, you can still see the burning flog marks of Jim Crow’s whip and smell the stench of the old racist’s ash.
I strongly encourage every reader to follow me as I take you down this twisted, yet factual, road of how the state of Louisiana deliberately created laws to disenfranchise its black population.
In the year of 1898, Louisiana held its constitutional convention with a direct purpose and intent. Born from the hateful and racist hearts and minds of these men were poll tax laws, voting laws, illiteracy tests and the property qualification law.
Keep in mind how in this day and age of 1898, fresh out of slavery, the black population could barely read and write.
In order to be qualified to have a meaningful say in the political area or be a member of any type of jury, a person had to be literate: and history shows how the black population was forced to stay uneducated in order to keep them enslaved. The black population barely owned property in that time, which disqualified them from sitting on a grand jury.
All of this was thoughtfully planned and schemed to establish the supremacy of the white Anglo-Saxon race, and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, and meant to dilute the influence [on juries] of racial, ethnic and religious minorities. And particularly to ensure that African American juror service would be meaningless.
This is sadly not heresy – these are facts backed up by law, historical records, judges who have ruled on these issues, and uncontroverted testimony of a highly respected Professor Aiello in the case of Melvin Cartez Maxie, No.13-cr-72522 (link).
All of this was occurring during the year of 1898, right on the heels of the RACIAL CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION.
Also on the heels of the constitutional convention, Louisiana also decided to change the Grand Jury system from one in which an all 12-member (unanimous) finding of a true or non true bill of indictment was needed… to one in which only “at least nine” of the 12 was needed to find a true or non true bill of indictment (see state v.birbigilla, 88so.533 (LA.1921) (link).
Plain as day, the facts are here for us to establish unconstitutionality in all and every indictment where there was split law practice, as they were split law Grand Juries: which was derived from racial and deliberate intent to disenfranchise “African Americans and some poor white trash” that were deemed not suitable to be worthy.
Of interest to note, this 9-3 Grand Jury split law that Louisiana still practiced today is the same split law practice that landed Louisiana in hot water with the United States Supreme Court in the case of RAMOS V. LOUISIANA, 590u.s.140,SCT.1390,206L.Ed.2d585 (2020) (link), where Louisiana was practicing split law in her Petit Jury (Trial Jury) in which she used a 10-2 split law system (however, it was a 9-3 prior to that).
Lets think about this for a second and use common sense here.
Grand Juries are the foundation of a criminal case. Without it there is no case against someone. If someone goes to trial with a jury (a Petit Jury) that has to render a verdict of unanimously 12 to find guilt, then why and how is it constitutional for that same person to have been indicted by a *Grand Jury* in a 9-3 split law system?
Louisiana created the split law grand jury system in 1898 for the same reason she created the split law petit jury system in 1898: to disenfranchise her black and brown population of having a meaningful say in the political arena in Louisiana.
In the case of Maxie (cited earlier), Honorable Judge Beasley stated that “if a 10-2 system can create racial disparities, then a 9-3 system creates racial disparities.”
According to the Georgetown Law Journal Fortieth Annual Review of Criminal Procedure, authored by Abbe David Lowell and Christopher D. Mann and concerning GRAND JURY PROCEDURAL VIOLATIONS, the UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT states: ‘An indictment may be dismissed for presumed prejudice when “the structural protections of the grand jury have been so compromised as to render the proceedings fundamentally unfair”… “For example as by RACIAL DISCRIMINATION, GENDER DISCRIMINATION, OR A HISTORY OF PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT… THAT IS…SYSTEMATIC AND PERVASIVE”…’
‘… IN THE CASE OF VASQUEZ VERSUS HILLARY, THE SUPREME COURT HELD THAT EVIDENCE OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION IN THE GRAND JURY SELECTION PROCESS COMPROMISES THESE STRUCTURAL PROTECTIONS BECAUSE SUCH ABUSES LEAVE THE REVIEWING COURT INCAPABLE OF DETERMING IF A “PROPERLY CONSTITUTED” GRAND JURY WOULD HAVE INDICTED THE DEFENDANT. CONSEQUENTLY, THE “OVERRIDING IMPERATIVE TO ELIMINATE THIS SYSTEMATIC FLAW IN THE CHARGING PROCESS” MANDATES REVERSAL OF THE CONVICTION AND DISMISSAL OF THE INDICTMENT…’
‘…ACCORDING TO THE BILL OF RIGHTS, “AN UNCONSTITUTIONAL ACT IS NOT LAW, IT CONFERS NO RIGHTS, IT IMPOSES NO DUTIES, AFFORDS NO PROTECTION, IT CREATES NO OFFICE, IT IS IN LEGAL CONTEMPLATION AS INOPERATIVE AS THOUGH IT HAD NEVER BEEN PASSED”…’
This is no longer a war of race, tribalism or political parties: this is a war of whether or not the Supreme Courts will remedy this injustice by ruling the Grand Jury 9-3 split law as being unconstitutional, along with the 10-2 ruling concerning petit juries: while, crucially, also applying retroactivity.
Retroactivity should not be denied just because of the number of people you will have to retry in court decades after being convicted by a jury or indicted by a grand jury.
This is surely how a true democracy should operate: by learning from its past and doing the “morally just” thing to correct its wrongs.
Ladies and gentlemen, as you read the clear cut evidence that I have laid before you in this blog entry, you can see the walking and talking hypocrisy we are forced to endure with our legal system: so rooted in racism and bigotry that it has and continues to stand for citizens in a democracy to either ignore or become numb to it, just as when you are constantly being beaten with a club – so much that it has become numb.
We aren’t numb to it any longer though. We will stand strong and courageous to change these unconstitutional Laws that afford no protection to anyone, except for the “modern slave masters.”
We are living in the twenty-first century: all forms of Jim Crow law should surely have been eradicated by now. Or they must be eradicated immediately. Every person who was/is subjected to these racist laws and were put through a grand jury of 9/3 persons (instead of 12 unanimous) is put through a system that is draconian and is used to further the disenfranchisement of people whose voices matter.
And it is used to continue the practice of mass incarceration.
The opposition can scream from the hill tops about opening the floodgates by having to retry decade old cases in court all across Louisiana: but this is what happens when old sins comeback to collect their due.
Why aren’t we holding our lawmakers to a higher standard by holding them accountable?
They created laws and changed laws based on bigoted or racist intent and motives: and now it must be remedied by applying retroactivity when they rule those same laws to be unconstitutional.
I would love to say that I have hope in the Supreme Courts to do the right thing, but I’d have to see it to believe it first.
We need all the help we can get to fight this fight concerning the grand jury split-jury issue. If you are reading this and you want to help, please do.
We need litigators, serious attorneys that are willing to fight for the truth and for the greater good. If you are someone who just wants to show support by being a positive person who would like to stand by us and keep our morale high, I welcome that as well.
You can contact me by opening an account through jpay.com and emailing me. My name is DUSTIN DRESSNER #443706.
Thank you for your time and energy, I’m genuinely grateful.
Readers and anyone interested can reach Dustin via the jpay.com system here, where you can communicate with him personally.
The author is particularly eager for any lawyers or legal experts to reach out, in the hopes of combating the prejudiced and unjust laws in Louisiana as highlighted in this article.