Darek Hayes, a father of three, was released from prison yesterday as a result of a post-conviction plea deal approved by a court in Caddo Parish. Hayes had been serving a life without the possibility of parole sentence for possessing a firearm. He was one of approximately 1,500 people serving sentences based on convictions arising from non-unanimous jury verdicts. The Dykema team of Ted Seitz and Kyle Asher represented Hayes through the firm's pro bono involvement with The Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI).
Hayes was convicted for possessing a firearm after having several previous non-violent convictions. When law enforcement found the firearm, it was discovered under a bed in a home where Hayes did not reside and was only visiting. A juror did not think the State had established the gun to be in Hayes’ possession, but Hayes was convicted anyway.
“We are so grateful to the Caddo Parish court and DA’s office for righting this wrong of the past,” said PJI attorney Claude-Michael Comeau. “We hope that courts and DA’s offices in other parishes will follow suit, and free or re-try those who remain incarcerated as a result of non-unanimous jury verdicts.”
For more than 120 years, Louisiana maintained a Jim Crow practice that allowed people like Hayes to be convicted even though one or two jurors dissented. In every other state besides Oregon, these cases would have resulted in a mistrial. Non-unanimous juries are nicknamed “Jim Crow Juries” because of the role that they played in explicitly working to maintain White supremacy in Louisiana. More than 80 percent of people with Jim Crow Jury verdicts are Black, and the law effectively silenced the voices of thousands of Black jurors.
Hayes is the fifth person with a non-unanimous jury verdict to get relief on a post-conviction relief application in Caddo Parish, and Caddo Parish is the fourth parish in Louisiana to begin efforts to remedy these unconstitutional convictions.
Hayes was welcomed home by his wife, three children, and extended family in Shreveport, Louisiana. Before his incarceration, Hayes served in the United States military as a structure specialist for two years. “I am so grateful to finally come home to my family after all of this time. I’ve missed birthdays, Christmases, and Thanksgivings, and I can’t wait to be able to spend time with my wife and kids,” Hayes said when he was released. “I am so glad to finally be free from this unjust Jim Crow Jury sentence, and hold on to hope for everyone else across the state who is in the same position as I was in.”