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criminal justice

The Dumbest Trial of the Century has been discharged with a hung jury. Now that I’m free to talk about it, I’m going to vent.

First off, this was a bleeping marijuana possession case. The People contended that a substantial quantity of marijuana that had been found near, not in, the defendant’s apartment had been in the possession of the defendant. The People’s case had holes you could drive a truck through. The detective on whose uncorroborated testimony the prosecution’s entire case was based was caught in several, um, inconsistencies while he was on the witness stand.

Deliberations began yesterday morning. Just over an hour into the deliberations we took a vote — 11 not guilty, 1 guilty.

You can probably guess the rest. The one holdout wouldn’t budge, even though (after two full days of attempting to “deliberate”) he was unable to explain why he was certain the defendant was guilty. The fellow changed his “reasoning” several times over the past two days, but not his guilty verdict. Finally his “reasoning” devolved into guilt by association — drugs were found near (not in, remember) the defendant’s apartment. A Yonkers detective said the drugs belonged to the defendant. Therefore, the defendant was guilty.

And yes, the juror was an elderly white man, and the defendant was black (as was the prevaricating detective). Do I think racism was a factor? Hell, yes. But I suspect stupid was a factor, also — the juror lacked the mental capacity to understand abstract concepts like “burden of proof” or even “evidence.”

I was the jury forepersonlady, so the composition and rhetoric of notes sent to the judge were under my purview. I became so rattled I could barely crank out cohesive sentences, and I guess my last note (of about 4:50 pm today) was unhinged enough the judge took pity on us and declared a hung jury.

And here’s the kicker — as a clump of us jurors hustled out of the courthouse, we encountered the defense attorney. And he guessed without being told which juror was the problem. Apparently his client, the defendant, had been the one to insist that man be seated on the jury over the attorney’s advise otherwise. The defendant had a “feeling” about the juror, the attorney said.

There’s a moral here, somewhere.

And yes, I was terribly disappointed that I didn’t get to stand up in court and announce a verdict. I’ve always wanted to do that. It’s unlikely I’ll get another chance.

I’m going to get tipsy now. Regular blogging resumes tomorrow.

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40 Comments

  1. eyesoars  •  Dec 18, 2006 @2:31 pm

    If you want to get off of jury duty sometime, when the judge asks if you’ll vote on the law as given to you by the judge, say no.

    Go look up ‘jury nullification’ using google. There is a constitutional right for jurors to vote against conviction, even if the law has been broken — this was viewed by the founders as a last resort against abusive and tyrannical laws. The supreme court has found, however, that there is no law or legal requirement for jurors to be informed of this.

    Judges hate the concept, and don’t want to see it used in their courtrooms. This is the concept that allowed lynchings: juries would never convict. Now that lynchings (other than by the legal system) are gone, people seem to have forgotten about this tack.

    Look up FIJA (fully-informed jury association). There’s lots of interesting history here.

    I looked this up after being considered for a rape trial. The defense lawyer put me near the top of his list, and the prosecuting attorney was polite, but clearly wanted me nowhere near her jury (she used a peremptory challenge on me). During the questioning, however, the judge asked me whether I would follow his direction as to law, and it struck me as odd, not so much immediately, but later when I was thinking about the implications. I started poking around and turned up a few things…

  2. maha  •  Dec 18, 2006 @2:37 pm

    If you want to get off of jury duty sometime, when the judge asks if you’ll vote on the law as given to you by the judge, say no.

    I don’t want to lie to get off a jury. The truth is I had no problem at all with the law as given to us by the judge.

    There is a constitutional right for jurors to vote against conviction, even if the law has been broken

    As I said in an earlier comment, I respect the rule of law above my own opinions. If the law has been created through democratic processes, then it really ought to be uncreated that way. Under some limited circumstances involving basic human rights of speech and security of one’s person and such I might decide otherwise, but I don’t put a right to possess a pound or so of marijuana in that category.

  3. maha  •  Dec 18, 2006 @2:40 pm

    For better or worse, you’re probably free from jury duty for life.

    That actually makes me sad. Were it not for the one flaming idiot juror it would have been a positive experience, even thought the trial was stupid.

  4. eyesoars  •  Dec 18, 2006 @2:52 pm

    I’ve never actually tried to get off a jury; I think it would be interesting (tho’ likely boring).

    But I also don’t think I can answer the question the judge asked me in the affirmative any more. If I think that the judge’s directions to me would likely result in a travesty of justice, I’ll vote as my conscience directs. I didn’t know the judge at the time he asked that question, and if I had answered “yes” (which I did at the time), it would have bound my future behavior. I won’t do that again — I will leave wiggle room for my conscience. And I think that will keep me off of all future juries — and I don’t want to be, which I think is sad, if not wrong.

  5. maha  •  Dec 18, 2006 @3:03 pm

    And I think that will keep me off of all future juries — and I don’t want to be, which I think is sad, if not wrong.

    If you don’t respect law, maybe you should be off juries.

    The law in our case wasn’t the problem. The law and the judge’s instructions clearly protected the defendant from wrongful conviction, and that’s a good thing. All we were there to do was determine the facts of the case based on the evidence presented in court; we were not there to decide what the law ought to be. The jury was hung because one juror did not (or could not; I think he was mentally impaired) understand and follow the instructions given to us by the judge that respected the rights of the defendant and the presumption of innocence.

  6. Fraud Guy  •  Dec 18, 2006 @3:05 pm

    I sat on a jury for possession of a controlled substance (cocaine). Defendant (hispanic female) was labeled suspicious for turning into a gas station and entering the convenience store while driving boyfriend’s car. She allowed search, and matchbox with substance was found at bottom of a full cupholder.
    Possession is valid if person “has control”, but defendant claimed did not know, not her car. Officer let boyfriend take car while bringing in defendant and substance. After prosecution finished, I wondered why there needed to be a defense, as they did not show that defendant knew of substance. (The judge had instructed that we would have had to convict by the letter of the law (no notification of jury nullification).)
    After defense rested, it took us just over 2 hours to declare not guilty, with votes of 10-2, 11-1, and (finally) 12-0. The judge apparently wasn’t concerned, however; she let the defendant leave to pick up her child from care while we were deliberating.
    Afterwards, I was talking to the prosecutor & the defense attorney; apparently the defendant had been counseled to accept a plea, despite the fact that I heard much more evidence to go after the boyfriend than her. When I asked the DA about probable cause, he said that the standard for that wasn’t very high. Apparently not.

  7. tb  •  Dec 18, 2006 @3:31 pm

    And yes, I was terribly disappointed that I didn’t get to stand up in court and announce a verdict.

    You have to deliver them like Charlton Heston as Moses. And then only the guilties are really satisfying.

  8. Nathanael Nerode  •  Dec 18, 2006 @4:04 pm

    “Those 12 jurors could not have been chosen unless they each promised the judge, the ADA, the defendant and his attorney that they would set aside their personal feelings about the marijuana laws and judge the case solely on the evidence and apply the law as the judge instructed, even if they disagreed with the law.”

    This is contrary to Supreme Court precedent and tradition dating back to Magna Carta, FYI. The right of jury nullification (the right for a jury to decide that a criminal law is unfair and to therefore acquit someone who is guilty according to written law) is actually guaranteed by Supreme Court precedent. It is also documented that it is one of the reasons the right to trial by jury was originally introduced in England, back when the King could just create unfair laws all on his own.

  9. Nathanael Nerode  •  Dec 18, 2006 @4:12 pm

    “I know a lot of liberals who feel drugs (even pot) are really, really bad.” Actually, FYI, “Sharps”, I agree that they’re really, really bad.

    But like most thoughtful liberals, I just think prohibition doesn’t work, and in fact backfires. More people drank during alcohol prohibition than before or afterwards; I know quite a few people who only tried drugs *because* they were illegal and therefore “cool” and “naughty”. The drug laws are also used as an excuse to go after entirely innocent people who happen to be *near* drug users, as is well documented.

    Not all bad things should be outlawed.

  10. ninja3000  •  Dec 18, 2006 @4:37 pm

    Regarding the lone jury holdout — my first jury duty was at an assault trial in Manhattan. Half of us were college-educated white collar types — including a Wall Streeter in his early 20s, a Yale grad. Eleven of us agreed that the case should not have been brought to trial, that it was a simple street confrontation between 2 dudes who had a history with each other. The Yalie holdout was clueless about life on the street and could not fathom our arguments that this was just a fight between a couple guys and not much of a case. His sole “guilty” vote meant that we all had to spend a night sequestered in a Staten Island hotel… The holdout had neglected to bring an overnight bag to court, as the judge had suggested the previous day. Next day we went directly back to the courtroom — with Mr. Holdout now resplendent in a hopelessly rumpled, expensive suit that he slept in. He quickly changed his vote before the rest of the panel pummeled him.

  11. eyesoars  •  Dec 18, 2006 @4:44 pm

    “If you don’t respect law, maybe you should be off juries.”

    It’s not a matter of respecting the law, it’s a matter of wanting justice.

    The constitution, whence all laws derive, specifically allows jurors to vote against conviction if they think the law is wrong (or for any other reason). I don’t particularly care what you think about drug laws (tho’ I think they’re wrongheaded and not working), but many, many laws are simply bad — licenses for abuse. They are produced by politicians, working for political ends. They’re frequently passed even when unconstitutional, unfair, or simply stupid and counterproductive.

    Laws can be applied in ways entirely contrary to the legislature’s intent. Law can become obsolete. Law can be applied unfairly — prosecuting attorneys have enormous lattitude and power. Laws can simply be unjust. And the constitution specifically allows for jurors to use their judgement in matters of law.

    IMO, this isn’t about “not respecting law”, but a matter of one’s civic responsibilities.

    Is democracy an end in itself, or simply a means? We have a constitutional representative democracy, with all the ideals, compromises, and flaws that entails. I hope the end is not simply democracy, but a fair and just society.

  12. maha  •  Dec 18, 2006 @5:15 pm

    The constitution, whence all laws derive, specifically allows jurors to vote against conviction if they think the law is wrong (or for any other reason). I don’t particularly care what you think about drug laws (tho’ I think they’re wrongheaded and not working), but many, many laws are simply bad — licenses for abuse. They are produced by politicians, working for political ends. They’re frequently passed even when unconstitutional, unfair, or simply stupid and counterproductive.

    That’s fine, and I can appreciate that sometimes conscience dictates that the law is wrong, but that wasn’t the case with this trial. I rather doubt it’s the case with most trials, only exceptional ones. And if you’re sitting in the jury box with some premeditated crusade about unjust laws and not really paying attention to the evidence in the case, you’re not being a good juror. And I sure as hell wouldn’t want to have to deliberate with you.

    In fact, in “my” case the law protected the defendant nicely. The juror who screwed him was the one who wouldn’t follow the law. You’re saying you think your first responsibility is to apply your personal opinion to the case, which is what the juror from hell thought also. Excuse me if I disagree.

    IMO, this isn’t about “not respecting law”, but a matter of one’s civic responsibilities.

    Our first civic responsibility as jurors is to protect the civil liberties of our fellow citizens who are on trial. By following the judge’s instructions and following the law as he explained it to us, eleven of us tried to do that. We voted “not guilty” based on the law and the evidence. One individual thought that his duty was to apply his personal opinion to the case, and he voted “guilty.”

    Do you see what I’m saying? This “I don’t give a shit about the law” thing cuts both ways, and most of the time (I suspect) it’s going to cut against civil liberty, not for it.

    That’s why you have to be VERY CAREFUL if think your first responsibility is to pass judgment on whether you agree with the law that allegedly was violated and not the evidence in the case.

    I realize that once in a while the law is unjust. I think, for example, that if the defendant had been a cancer patient who needed marijuana to get through chemotherapy, I would have voted not guilty even if the “possession” case had been clearer. But I think such cases are the exception.

    Is democracy an end in itself, or simply a means?

    Both, I think. If we make it routine to set aside democratic processes to impose our personal views on people, even when we mean well, in the long run we’re going to do more harm than good. Your personal will may be fine, but somebody else’s might not be. I’m not saying that setting aside the law should be impossible, but I am saying it shouldn’t be easy, or routine. Do you see why?

    We have a constitutional representative democracy, with all the ideals, compromises, and flaws that entails. I hope the end is not simply democracy, but a fair and just society.

    Exactly. And in the case in question, the law we applied protected a fair and just society.

  13. rlb  •  Dec 18, 2006 @5:50 pm

    A couple of years ago I was in the jury pool and was called in for selection on a marijuana possession case vs. a young black man. I raised my hand during voir dire (sp??) when the judge asked if anyone felt they couldn’t pass judgment on another human being for any reason. I was called to the bench with the prosecutor and defense attorney and was asked to explain. I told the judge that I’d smoked the defendant’s weight in marijuana by the time I was his age without as much as a parking ticket and I wasn’t about to send anybody to jail for that. I respected Karma enough not to call that kind of mojo down on my head. Needless to say I didn’t serve on that case.

  14. Thumb  •  Dec 18, 2006 @5:55 pm

    “I know a lot of liberals who feel drugs (even pot) are really, really bad.”

    And I know a lot of liberals who feel unsaturated fats (even basic sugars) are really, really bad. And I also know from professional experience that because of our drug laws, pot is 100x easier for minors to aquire than alchohol.

    So what’s your point?

  15. maha  •  Dec 18, 2006 @6:12 pm

    rlb — you called karma on your head by shirking your duty. You might have been the juror who encouraged the rest of the jurors to be fair and unbiased toward the defendant, for example.

    The jury’s job is not to judge the individual on trial but to judge the facts of the case. I don’t know anything about the man whose trial I heard last week except that he used to live in Yonkers. All I do know is that the prosecution did not prove that the marijuana that detectives said they found near the defendant’s apartment was the defendant’s marijuana.

  16. Joe  •  Dec 18, 2006 @6:43 pm

    My first experience … while in college … in jury duty involved a drug case. A typical buy/bust case in the Bronx. It involved four counts. The jury basically held that half of them were not proven, sort of on technical grounds, as I recall. The suburban white mom sort was the most sympathetic to the defendant, who, honestly, was clearly “guilty” as in surely he wanted to buy the drugs etc.

    You are going get racism on the jury, various ways. Plus stupidity. And other bias. Such is life. My other trial involved a heinous crime. It ended with a hung jury. To say we “deliberated” would be a bit generous. One father on the jury not surprisingly saw the girl as basically his child. Another on the jury it turns out had something similar happen to her. Others were sympathetic. I was annoyed she was on the jury.

    Also shown was sympathy for the young woman asst da, who was outmatched given her opponent was a wily veteran, a former prosecutor to boot. And reliance on slim evidence that really didn’t prove anything. So it goes.

  17. maha  •  Dec 18, 2006 @7:11 pm

    Joe — With the exception of the one juror I don’t think my jury was influenced by either sympathy or prejudice toward the defendant. It was not a case that stirred up a lot of emotions, I guess. There was some irritation with the prosecutor and with the lead detective, but that irritation was based on the flimsiness of the case.

  18. Kathryn in California  •  Dec 18, 2006 @7:19 pm

    Maha,

    What did you think of the voir dire process? I assume they asked a bunch of questions- did anyone, at any time, request privacy in answering a question?

    The last two times I’ve been called for jury duty, I didn’t reach the questioning part myself. But I was surprised at how personal some of the questions were, and how the potential jurors seemed quite comfortable at answering all the questions in front of dozens of strangers.

  19. maha  •  Dec 18, 2006 @7:35 pm

    What did you think of the voir dire process? I assume they asked a bunch of questions- did anyone, at any time, request privacy in answering a question?

    Several people were interviewed privately, although I was not. Jurors were given the option of replying to a question privately if they wished. I don’t remember any really intrusive questions during the “open” voir dire.

  20. rlb  •  Dec 18, 2006 @9:17 pm

    I don’t think I did shirk my duty. I was asked whether I could judge the man and I couldn’t. Should I have lied and said I could render an impartial judgment? Was it my duty to lie my way onto the panel only to attempt jury nullification? Just asking. And besides, I’ve served on 2 murder juries (not capital) and was a foreman on a civil case all in the past 8 years. I’ve gone the second and third mile for the judicial system.

  21. maha  •  Dec 18, 2006 @9:59 pm

    rlb — I apologize. I misunderstood what you wrote.

  22. Howard Appel  •  Dec 18, 2006 @11:11 pm

    Nathanael Nerode: Do you have a cite to a particular Supreme Court case that upholds jury nullification? I don’t recall studying one in law school (but criminal law was not my focus) and I would like to read the case. Thanks.

  23. Deth  •  Dec 19, 2006 @3:23 am

    “Do I think racism was a factor? Hell, yes. But I suspect stupid was a factor, also […]”

    WOW! Stupid AND racist?!?! Don’t see that combo very often!

  24. erblack  •  Dec 19, 2006 @8:36 am

    I feel compelled to say a word in defense of commenters #34 and #41, towards whom I felt you were… a little oversensitive, maybe? Maybe you have no tolerance for being questioned on any level, but I thought both comments were respectful and topical. You accused the one of being judgmental because he asked if you were “predisposed to acquit”, and the other of prejudging you because she agreed that the way you phrased your argument made it “sound like you don’t take marijuana laws seriously”. I only see one party to this squabble who I thought was unreasonably presumptuous and judgmental- check the mirror. And even if you were offended by the question, what was the point of calling one an ass and the other a “judgmental twit”? Is it not possible to keep the tone of the exchange basically civil? If you bother to respond to me, you can fairly call me judgmental, because I thought you were a bit oafish. Hopefully, that’s you on a bad day.

  25. erblack  •  Dec 19, 2006 @8:40 am

    “WOW! Stupid AND racist?!?! Don’t see that combo very often!”

    Actually, that combination’s pretty common.

  26. maha  •  Dec 19, 2006 @8:46 am

    erblack — the commenters were making assumptions without knowing the facts. I hate that, whether the assumptions are about me or not. If they’d asked questions to clarify what my problems with the trial were before passing judgment, that would have been different, but they didn’t.

    And that’s me all the time. Deal with it, or rest your eyes elsewhere.

  27. Diogenes Of Pumpkintown  •  Dec 19, 2006 @11:03 am

    Just a few points in response to some of the commentary above:

    Theoretically, the prosecution can indeed try the defendant from maha’s case again, but as a practical matter, no prosecutor in his/her right mind would bother to retry a case where the jury was hung 11 to 1 in favor of acquittal. If the case is so bad that 11 out of 12 jurors were voting to acquit, there is no reason whasoever for any prosecutor to reasonably hope that 12 out of 12 jurors will vote to convict next time around. The prosecution will drop the case.

    “Reasonable doubt” does not mean that if the outcome of a trial comes down to a swearing contest between a single witness for the prosecution versus a single witness for the defense, that the jury must acquit. The role of a jury is, among other things, to assess and weigh the credibility of the witnesses. A jury can always find that one witness is credible and the other isn’t.

    Regarding jury nullification: the power of jury nullification is built into the jury system inherently. A jury person has the inherent power to return a vote of “not guilty”, no matter what the evidence says. A juror can say “not guilty”, and there is no one who can question or challenge him afterwards regarding the reasons for his verdict

  28. caseynm  •  Dec 19, 2006 @1:18 pm

    Was there any reason to believe that the detective planted the evidence? This case smells real bad, and it does sound as if the detective/prosecutor really wanted this guy.

  29. maha  •  Dec 19, 2006 @1:38 pm

    Was there any reason to believe that the detective planted the evidence?

    Yes, that was a possibility we considered, although with the evidence we had we could only speculate.

  30. maha  •  Dec 19, 2006 @1:52 pm

    “Reasonable doubt” does not mean that if the outcome of a trial comes down to a swearing contest between a single witness for the prosecution versus a single witness for the defense, that the jury must acquit. The role of a jury is, among other things, to assess and weigh the credibility of the witnesses. A jury can always find that one witness is credible and the other isn’t.

    The operative phrase here is not “reasonable doubt,” but “burden of proof.”

    Also, to us the detective was not just a “witness” for the prosecution; he was an agent of the state, and in fact he was the lead detective in charge of the investigation that lead to the search warrant (which we did not see) that brought about the search that led to the arrest. He was not just a disinterested observer, in other words. And it was just way too obvious from his testimony that he was not being honest with us.

    If the one witness had been some passerby who said he saw the defendant with the drugs, with nothing to gain from the conviction, we might have given that testimony more weight. But the judge made it clear to us that the prosecution had the BURDEN OF PROOF beyond a reasonable doubt, not the defendant. We interpreted this to mean that if the prosecution couldn’t prove to us (beyond a reasonable doubt) that the story the detective told us was true, then our duty was to acquit; the defendant didn’t have to prove anything. Indeed, he really didn’t. We had a lot of reasonable doubt about the defendant’s side of the story also. But since the burden of proof belonged entirely to the prosecution — the judge was very clear about this — then the eleven of us understood that the only responsible verdict was not guilty.

  31. Diogenes Of Pumpkintown  •  Dec 19, 2006 @2:10 pm

    maha, I am well aware of the burden of proof in criminal cases. As you accurately say immediately above, the prosecution has the burden of proof, and must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

    However, this does not mean what you were originally claiming when you stated: “If the case boils down to the prosecution’s word against the defendant’s word, then the law requires a ‘not guilty’ verdict.”

    Cases, and convictions, happen all the time in the criminal justice system where it is simply a single police officer’s word against the defendant’s. A simple example where such scenarios are commonplace is in trials for speeding, where the only witnesses are often a single police officer who testifies that the defendant was speeding, and the defendant who testifies that he wasn’t. The fact that the prosecution has the burden of proof, and that proof must be beyond a reasonable doubt, in no way precludes a jury from returning a verdict of guilty.

  32. Diogenes Of Pumpkintown  •  Dec 19, 2006 @2:14 pm

    Btw, to clear up any possible confusion, I am not faulting the stance that you and the 10 jurors who agreed with you took in your case whatsoever. From what you have said about the case, I think it clear that the verdict should have been “not guilty.”

  33. John Palmer/LongHairedWeirdo  •  Dec 19, 2006 @2:22 pm

    Hi, Maha… listen, I don’t want to be insulting, so I’ll speak calmly and not use any dirty words and that means I’m being polite. Everyone knows you can’t be impolite when you’re not using dirty words.

    I think that you’re not being honest with us in claiming you were a fair and impartial juror. In fact, I question your judgment about the entire case. So, I’m going to ask some questions. Just because these questions imply that I can’t trust your judgment and think you’re incompetent enough that you haven’t thought of them, since they’re only questions, they can’t be insulting.

    Did you get dressed on days you appeared for jury duty? Showing up naked might have influenced the jury in a negative manner. And did you recognize that they were speaking English, not Norwegian, at the trial?

    Also, did you only use clearly marked restrooms for elimination, or did you use the broom closet? Using the broom closet as a bathroom is highly unprofessional.

    And you know, despite your having claimed to respect the law, I don’t think you do, because you didn’t say things the way I would say them. But I didn’t say that you don’t respect the law, so don’t pretend I did! I simply said that I don’t think you do, and that’s something else entirely!

    Now, I know you might think there are some really insulting implications in the questions I’m asking, but since I didn’t directly insult you, don’t you dare take offense or you’ll hurt my feelings and then I *will* have to call you names and stalk off angrily.

  34. eyesoars  •  Dec 19, 2006 @3:43 pm

    “Do you see what I’m saying? This “I don’t give a shit about the law” thing cuts both ways, and most of the time (I suspect) it’s going to cut against civil liberty, not for it.

    That’s why you have to be VERY CAREFUL if think your first responsibility is to pass judgment on whether you agree with the law that allegedly was violated and not the evidence in the case. ”

    Yes, I understand what you’re saying. But you’re imputing to me things I did not say — or mean.

    I pointed out that my first duty as a juror is to see justice served. For the most part, this does indeed involve following the judge’s direction with regard to the law. Fine; I’ve not disagreed with anything.

    HOWEVER, and this is a BIG however, there will be exceptions (though probably not in any case I ever see as a juror). In my case, I noticed that before the trial ever started, the judge asked whether I would follow his direction on matters of law and weighing the evidence. At the time I responded I would.

    Thinking about it later, I should not have. I looked around, and found out why I should not have, and the effect that this has on jurors.

    (1) In agreeing to vote with the law as the judge instructs me, I may be misinformed or underinformed. In re: jury nullification, the judge almost certainly WILL NOT tell me I have any right to do this. Few people seem to be aware of their “rights” in this regard.

    (2) By answering the question about following his direction, I committed myself to an (admittedly hypothetical) possible perversion of justice. If I did so and then voted my conscience against his directions, it’s possible that I could have been found in contempt of court for refusing to follow his direction. By answering truthfully (“probably”), the judge will also probably dismiss me on his own volition for cause (others I have known who did answer the question in the negative have had this happen). Also by answering in the affirmative, I’ve biased myself towards following the judge’s direction; this may or may not be a good thing.

    (3) Juries can nullify laws. I do not always think this is a good thing; as I pointed out, it allowed open air lynchings in broad daylight. But the converse allows truly evil laws to do enormous harm: e.g., the Waco jurors who cried when they found out what their conviction implied, and would have voted acquit if they had known.

    Thus, I think it is incumbent on jurors not to take their jobs lightly. Nor do I think they should take on their jobs in ignorance — no matter that the judge is educated: doing so, IMO, is an abdication of one of a citizen’s most important duties. The FIJA agrees. (Note that I’m NOT implying that you took your duties lightly.)

    In this context, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse” means something entirely different, but’s it’s still worth a thought.

    When I regularly see convictions with draconian sentences for absurd “crimes” (e.g., telling a boyfriend to call someone back (the someone wanted to buy drugs, which she may or may not have known)) I think it especially behooves us to remember the law can be an ass.

    The goal here, IMO, is a fair and just society. Given the current incarceration rates in this country, it’s clear we’re not doing a very good job.

  35. Diogenes Of Pumpkintown  •  Dec 19, 2006 @4:03 pm

    eyesoars wrote: “If I did so and then voted my conscience against his directions, it’s possible that I could have been found in contempt of court for refusing to follow his direction.”

    No, don’t worry about this possibility. A juror in a criminal case has an absolute power to vote “not guilty”, with no requirement to explain the reasons for the vote to anyone whatsoever, the judge included.

    Otherwise, I tend to agree with your point of view regarding jury nullification.

  36. maha  •  Dec 19, 2006 @4:48 pm

    eyesoars: I don’t disagree with you, but I was a tad alarmed at the way you are pushing jury nullification with such evangelistic zeal when it has nothing whatsoever to do with the case at hand. It’s the blazing cross of righteousness that put me off, I think. Gotta watch that.

    It’s a matter of perspective. If you assume that your FIRST duty as a juror is to judge whether you like the law or not, I think that’s irresponsible, and also disrespectful to your fellow citizens who may disagree with you. If there’s something about the case that nags at your conscience (e.g., the cancer patient caught smoking a joint after chemotherapy) then by all means nullify the law. But IMO you’re primarily there to see to it that the defendant is getting a fair trial. If the trial seems fair and the evidence against the defendant seems solid, then I think choosing a not guilty verdict is not something one should do for frivolous reasons, even though you’re within your rights to decide any way you want. If on the other hand this particular case has mitigating circumstances that make you think a not guilty verdict is just wrong, even though the law was broken, I respect that. But such cases are rare, I suspect.

    In our case I had no idea what kind of sentence the defendant might have received had he been found guilty. The judge wouldn’t tell us, and he said that’s something we shouldn’t even be thinking about. We should look only at the facts of the case. If I had known that the guy would have received 10 years in a penitentiary for simple marijuana possession, that would have been a problem. But I honestly didn’t know, and the prosecution’s case was stupid, so it wasn’t an issue.

  37. Susan  •  Dec 19, 2006 @6:01 pm

    “And the fact that it was a one-witness case doesn’t bother me – if I get robbed when I’m alone, you bet I’m going to expect the jury to believe me, with or without corroboration.” – someone above

    I won’t necessarily believe you. I know how hard it is under violent or threat-of-violence to remember things exactly. I would believe that you got robbed, but not that you remember the person exactly.

  38. maha  •  Dec 19, 2006 @6:49 pm

    I think one part of this case that people aren’t picking up on is that the only plaintiff in this case is the government. In other words, the case was not between one citizen and another citizen. It was between the government and a citizen. So the “If I get robbed” model does not apply. If the defendant had been accused of doing harm to another citizen, I might have looked at it differently. But when the case is the government versus a citizen, the government had better have a damn good case.

  39. Diogenes Of Pumpkintown  •  Dec 19, 2006 @8:32 pm

    maha said: “I think one part of this case that people aren’t picking up on is that the only plaintiff in this case is the government. In other words, the case was not between one citizen and another citizen. It was between the government and a citizen. So the ‘If I get robbed’ model does not apply.”

    Of course it applies. Robbery is a crime. Crimes are prosecuted by the government in criminal court. In a criminal case, the victim of the crime is merely a witness. The case itself is the government’s.

  40. maha  •  Dec 19, 2006 @10:07 pm

    Diogenes — who was the victim in the marijuana possession case? Nobody; there was no victim. That was my point. Of course the goverment prosecutes criminal cases.

    I think it’s time to cut off comments. This is getting annoying.

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