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Deltango Vale

Jury Duty

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I once served on a jury in a criminal case. It was a retrial; the jury in the first trial could not reach a verdict. After a long month listening to the evidence, it was quite clear to me that the prosecution case was speculative and circumstantial. In fact, I was baffled that the case came to trial at all.

Immediately after the judge summed up the case in preparation for us to retire to reach a verdict, I wrote him a note, which he read out in court. My question to him was basically this:

"Do you wish us to come to a consensus on an opinion about the accused's guilt or innocence or is he innocent by default unless the evidence has proved conclusively beyond doubt to us that he is guilty?"

The judge replied (and I think I have it pretty good in my memory):

"I do not want your collective opinion. The accused is innocent by default. He remains innocent until you as a group are convinced by solid evidence beyond all reasonable doubt that he is guilty."

It took us 15 seconds to reach a verdict. While it was perfectly possible the accused was guilty, there were several highly plausible scenarios in which he was innocent. The judge's instructions were crystal clear. It was not up to us to pick and choose what we liked or didn't like, it was not our role to formulate an opinion, it was our job to decide if the evidence provided unambiguous proof of the man's guilt.

Afterwards, in a bar across the street, we wondered what on Earth the first jury was thinking when the prosecution case was so weak. We could only conclude (since the prosecution had an opportunity to improve its case in the second trial) that the first jury was deadlocked over an opinion. Some of them thought the man was innocent; others thought he was guilty. For some reason, that first jury did not understand the concept of "innocent until proven guilty."

I do not know the details of the cases below. I offer no opinion on the cases below. I offer no opinion on the death penalty. I do NOT wish to begin a discussion about the death penalty.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-15013860

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-14984584

In the trial that I served on, the accused man's entire life would have been destroyed by a guilty verdict - a verdict that would have been based on speculation, circumstantial evidence and personal opinion.

I therefore wish to ask those who have ever served on juries if they are satisfied with the decisions they reached. For those who have not served on juries, have you ever accused a person of something based solely on an opinion, only to discover later that you made unfounded assumptions and jumped to conclusions?

In brief, has the concept of "innocent until proven guilty" been replaced by mob rule in the court of public opinion?

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Deltango Vale wrote:

In brief, has the concept of "innocent until
proven
guilty" been replaced by
mob rule in the court of public opinion?

Yes. 

Here's a small example:   http://community.secondlife.com/t5/General-Discussion-Forum/Naming-Ourselves-Who-Will-Decide-Who-YOU-Are/td-p/1105951

In that thread multiple people rail against one person, and it is accepted de facto that the person, a blogger, is guilty of "something". 

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I sat on a jury with a hearing that lasted two weeks. The defendant was accused of attempted murder. The defendant was found innocent on all 5 charges.

I learned that I would never want to get shot in my city, the police are completely incompetent at investigating crimes. Zero Officers from that department will appear on CSI.

I learned that Grand Jury's are wasting tax payers time and money.

The biggest criminal in the case was the alleged Victim (convicted rapist). 

Banks are robbing America blind, people are suffering and the Grand Jury thinks a case about 2 men fighting over a woman, is the best pursuit for Justice. There is nothing Grand about what is going on. I was ashamed to be a part of the Game that was played in that Court.

A judge amongst fools and a fool amongst judges.

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I served for a few months on rape case in California. I was actually the jury foreman because no one else wanted to do it lol. Took us about 3 hours to reach a verdict of guilty. There wasn't a ton of physical evidence mostly witness testimony. What did the guy in was he took the stand several times himself and told a different story every time. Had he just kept his mouth shut he may have been better off. And if you are going to lie in court at least be consistent about it lol. I think they tacked on perjury as well.

I think most of our three hours was having them read back testimony so we could make sure we really heard what we thought we heard.

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Deltango Vale wrote in part:

...

Afterwards, in a bar across the street, we wondered what on Earth the first jury was thinking when the prosecution case was so weak. We could only conclude (since the prosecution had an opportunity to improve its case in the second trial) that the first jury was deadlocked over an
opinion
. Some of them
thought
the man was innocent; others
thought
he was guilty. For some reason, that first jury did not understand the concept of "innocent until
proven
guilty."

That is why I never really understood the American jury system. As far as I know, the jurors don't need any legal training, or training in deductive reasoning for that matter. If I stood to trial, I'd be very afraid if people without a legal background got to decide over my guilt or innocence.

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I've never served in a jury. The last time I went to serve I was told there were no cases that day and sent home.

 

I have learned in my life that you really need to hear both sides of everything. You need to question not only your opponents but your friends as well. And most of all to question yourself.

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are you kidding? without even taking a survey, i could safely say that every person on this earth has at one time  jumped to an opinion about someone else actions/attitude/demeanor and there in the same action accused that person of something. Not only that, but i would feel safe in saying that anyone who pretends they haven't  is a liar.

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I've served on juries twice recently.  In one case the evidence was overwhelming for the defendant's guilt, do i have no second thoughts or regrets.

The second case was different.  It was a murder trial.  There was no solid 'hard' evidence.  No DNA, no other positive tests of any kind.  We sat through the entire case and it lasted several days. The prosecution's case was weak and circumstantial.  It was like they went and arrested the first man that fit their profile of a likely suspect.  It was hard to figure out why they even brought it to trial.  In the end, after hearing closing arguments, the judge sent the jury from the room to deliberate. 

After the preliminaries, the Forman asked for a first vote just so we knew where we stood as a group and what we needed to discuss more.  Everyone on the jury voted not guilty saying the case was far from proven beyond doubt.  The Forman was writing up the verdict on the form they gave us, when we called back into court.  The Judge said after deliberating it all himself he was dismissing the case for lack of evidence.  It confirmed for us that we had made the right decision.  Even if that hadn't happened I would have been comfortable with my vote.

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I've never been seated on a jury.   Nor am I ever likely to be for two reasons.  

The first is because I have a law degree.  No defense attorney wants someone with an intricate understanding of the law and the legal process on a jury.  They always play to the emotions of the jury when they can't effectively refute the prosecutions case.   That's also why many people choose a jury trial v. a trial by the judge.  The judge renders a verdict solely on the facts of the case and leaves emotion and personal opinion out of the decision making process. The law and the evidence are all that matter.

The second reason is because I'm a law enforcement officer.   I thoroughly understand the investigative process and the limitations involved.    I 'm also intimately familiar with the tricks and strategies that defense lawyers typically employ during the course of a criminal trial.  They don't want me on a jury because I'd see through the BS and consider only the law and the evidence just as a judge would.  

The comment that most of the local cops in one poster's location will never end up on CSI is indicative of a mindset common today.   It's called "CSI Syndrome".   With the proliferation of such television shows as CSI, the average person believes that all criminal cases can be proved, or disproved, through scientific evidence.   This assumption couldn't be further from the truth as few cases are ever cut and dried.  You need look no further than the Casey Anthony case for an example of this and the types of tactics a defense attorney will employ.

The presence of viable forensic evidence is rarely available beyond the most basic premise of "Locard's theory of Transference"  in the majority of criminal cases.  Simply stated, this is conveyed by the postulation that when someone enters a location they leave behind something brought in with them and take something from the location away with them when they leave.   This is generally the most basic type of evidence, such as fiber evidence or dirt on the soles of the shoes.   In many cases it is little better than circumstantial and of little or no value beyond supporting a certain theory.

The comments on the passing of an indictment by a Grand Jury would indicate a lack of understanding of how the Grand Jury system functions.    Each court system seats Grand Juries which serves for a certain term to consider evidence presented to them by a prosecutor.    They have no say in which cases they consider, nor can they select which witnesses can testify or what evidence they will consider.   These factors are at the sole discretion of the prosecutor.    New York State chief judge Sol Wachtler famously observed that prosecutors have so much control over grand juries that they could convince them to "indict a ham sandwich."   An indictment, therefore is never considered an indication of guilt and the defendant is always considered innocent until proven otherwise.

Being seated on a jury requires no specific understanding of the law.  As mentioned, the judge will explain the pertinent aspects and what may or may not be considered when the jury is charged before beginning deliberations. The jury is also instructed, either during a trail, or at the time they are charged as to what weight is given to different pieces of evidence. 

The standard of evidence needed for a conviction is then considered (a "Mere Preponderance of evidence" for civil trials, or "Beyond Any Reasonable Doubt" for criminal trials).   The judge may also act to dismiss the case once he/she has heard all the evidence.  Then the  jury member is only required to put aside their personal opinions and emotions, consider the evidence presented by both sides and render a verdict based upon whether the burden of proof has been met.  

If found guilty a defendant has numerous appeals options on several different levels.   In the first case cited, Georgia v Davis, these appeals resulted in, first a retrial at which Davis was again convicted, then the automatic appeal required in a capital case.   Later appeals were heard by both State and Federal courts with the verdict and sentence being upheld or returned to lower courts for further consideration.   This was then reviewed by the higher court to insure it's instructions had been followed and the finding allowed to stand.

In the case of Troy Davis, I do feel that the Governor should have commuted the sentence to life without the possibility of parole.  This is not because I oppose capital punishment, but because I think it will add further ammunition to the argument that capital punishment should be abolished.  I also wonder if those witnesses who twice gave testimony they knew to be false shouldn't be charged with perjury themselves.

The attached story detailing protests held outside the White House in the hope that President Obama would intercede demonstrates a lack of understanding about the legal system on the part of the protestors.   Since this was a state case, and not federal, Obama had neither the ability nor the authority to intercede.

Though never part of a jury, I have, myself, witnessed an execution in a murder case I was involved with.  I feel that capital punishment has it's place even in today's society.  But it should be reserved for the worst cases.  These would include the murder of a law enforcement officer in the line of duty, a child or indiscriminate acts of terrorism. 

Make no mistake, a trial is about justice but, the punishment is, and always will be, about retribution.  And in it's haste to protect the rights of criminals, society all too often forgets the victims and it's duty to protect  society as a whole from such acts as rape, murder and indiscriminate violence.

(edited for a few misspellings)

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In the UK, a jury is selected at random from the Electoral Role (the official list of eligible voters). On the first day of the trial, before the jurors are seated, the judge asks if any juror has a compelling reason for being excused from jury service. Very few excuses are accepted. The jury is then seated and the trial begins. There is no grooming by the prosecution or the defense (no selection, no elimination, no racial profiling, no gender profiling, no professional profiling). Our jury was an eclectic mix: six women, six men, two academics, four professionals, two students, two housewives, two laborers, eight white, four non-white (with different national/cultural backgrounds).

What impressed me about the jury system (the non-groomed jury system) was:

 

  • It forced the prosecution and the police to present their evidence publicly. Anyone who believes that the inner workings of the legal system are clear, efficient and rigorous is deluded. Our case exposed rivalries within the police about what evidence to present and when to present it, conflicts between police informers and regular officers, personality clashes between police officers and the prosecution, petty rivalries, inside jokes, deliberate attempts to deceive and obfuscate, professional jealousies, hidden political agendas, bureaucratic mistakes etc. Without a jury and a public gallery, the trial would have been Kafkaesque. The accused would have been convicted based on a better-safe-than-sorry political agenda supported by weak evidence gathered hastily through less than competent means.
  • It demonstrated that 12 very different people from a wide range of backgrounds could converge rapidly on the truth (that the prosecution case was flimsy at best).

What horrified me about the jury system was:

 

  • That juries can easily form opinions rather than evaluate evidence rationally. Few jurors have any formal training. Having said that, I was pleased that those on our jury with the least education were quickest to spot the BS. Yet something had obviously gone wrong with the previous jury.

At the end of the day, no system is perfect. I think the US jury-grooming system is deeply flawed, but anything is better than a secret trial behind closed doors.

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on the plus side jury selection/disqualification (not grooming which is considered the negative aspect) in the US was implemented to prevent base prejudices resulting in hung juries (and to an extent, jury nullification). Like the brits, we draw from the pool of registered voters.

interestingly trial by jury was essentially devised for the purpose of limiting misapplication of the law in common understanding (letter vs spirit distinction), as a check to possible corruption, as well as limiting unreasonable laws in general. Yet in general, expanded judicial power to punish jurors via contempt has had a chilling effect on nullification of any kind, and the standard of most states to disallow trial by jury for any offense that will result in a maximum of less than 6 moths imprisonment, both contrary to the purpose of juries.

 

there's a joke about juries in the US.... "12 people too stupid to be able to get out of jury duty"... because it's amazingly easy to get out of if you know anything about nullification, or are even relatively prejudiced and willing to show it (or the default of being able to demonstrate hardship)

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Deltango Vale wrote:

In brief, has the concept of "innocent until
proven
guilty" been replaced by mob rule in the court of public opinion?

Great OP Del.  I had, i think, what may have been my first wot (wall of text) to post.  I decided to post this in its place:

Instinct is a direct perception of what is right, within its own realm. Intuition is direct cognition of truth in all things. Reason is....the balance between instinct and intuition.  (The Friendly Philosopher.)

I rely on all three, and all the time.  Hubris compels me to stand against mob rule. 

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Deltango Vale wrote:

At the end of the day, no system is perfect. I think the US jury-grooming system is deeply flawed, but anything is better than a secret trial behind closed doors.

The system is flawed but I've not seen a better option offered. The 'grooming' business is pretty disgusting, though. And it is getting worse. I do think the one thing that makes the US system stand out is the presumption of innocence.

I've been called but only served on one trial, and opinion did matter. The case involved shoplifting. The agreed-upon facts were that the defendant had left the store in posession of items not paid for. The defense did not dispute that at all.

The defendant's guilt or innocence (of the charge: burglary) had to be decided from the evidence. Did he forget he had those items as he went through the checkstand and out the exit, or did he intentionally conceal them? The jury's job was to listen to testimony, observe the evidence (video, witnesses, etc.) and form an opinion.

The decision came down to who we, the jurors, believed. That's opinion; it can never be anything else. Our opinion was he intended to steal (he picked a really expensive item, dropped it in his cart, covered it with his jacket, then grabbed a few knick-knacks to pay for at the checkstand on his way out). It's POSSIBLE he just forgot about the power tool under his jacket, but it wasn't reasonable to believe that he had.

Deliberation lasted as long as it took to choose a foreman and take one starting vote, which was 12-0 guilty.

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Seems to be all about jury selection, doesn't it?

Pleas are offered to the poorer clients and not everyone sitting in jail is guilty. Not everyone set free is innocent, either.

High profile cases like Casey Anthony make me wonder but I am glad the West Memphis 3 were finally freed, even if it was in a flawed way. And the media put them in danger by not making it clear there were serious doubts in the case.

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In a nutshell, we the jury wanted to know whether it was a 'beauty contest' or a 'math problem'.

The judge's key point was that the acccused's initial status was not 'neutral' or 'undefined' (floating somewhere in limbo between guilty and innocent); the accused had an initial status of innocent. The onus was on the prosecution to prove not-innocent. In other words, the process was not a beauty contest between equal and opposite candidates (innocence or guilt), it was a math problem that required the prosecution to provide a clean and unambiguous path from A (innocence) to B (guilt).

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In US courts there is one more safeguard built into the system. Once a jury reaches it's verdict the trial court has the option to either affirm the verdict or the judge can choose to depart downward from the jury's findings. 

If a jury finds a defendant guilty of murder in the 1st degree the judge may rule that the finding was inappropriate based on the evidence and enter a finding of guilt in the 2nd degree.   This is especially true in the penalty phase in cases where the jury also decides the sentence, such as capital cases.  If the jury decrees a sentence of death, the trial court may lower that to life or life without parole.

The trial judge's decision is also reviewed in such cases by the administrative judge for that jurisdiction to insure all the proper procedures were followed.

No system is perfect because no humans are perfect.   But yes, it's much better that we hold our trials open to the public and the media rather than in secret.

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considering that a survey of jurors in the US found that almost half believed that defendants were either guilty by default or at the very least required to prove their innocence, it seems like a an astute question, even if the person asking knows the answer (because the rest of the jury may not)

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Elle Benusconi wrote:

I've never been seated on a jury.   Nor am I ever likely to be for two reasons.  

The first is because I have a law degree.  No defense attorney wants someone with an intricate understanding of the law and the legal process on a jury.

Why on earth would you draw this conclusion?  An intricate understanding for the a law and the legal process favors the party with the stronger case.  That's not always the prosecution.  Sorry but all you've done is shown your bias without regard to understanding of the law and legal process if you draw a conclusion like that.  The levels of misconduct that prosecutors can and do engage in without fear of punishment in the United States is actually pretty mind  boggling to anyone familiar with the justice system.


Elle Benusconi wrote:

The second reason is because I'm a law enforcement officer.

This is the real reason you haven't served on a jury.  Your transparent bias shows that you are heavily disposed to ignore the standard of presumption of innocence, a state of mind which is common to most law enforcement officers, and is why any competent defense attorney would challenge your being seated as a juror.  They probably wouldn't even have to use a peremptory challenge for you.

Contrary to your assertion, there is a trend towards not automatically challenging lawyers from being seated on juries.  One of my friends who has been practicing law for over 20 years was selected for a jury for a criminal trial without being challenged by either side.  Also contrary to your assumptions, he laid out the evidence and presentations of each side in such a clear and organized matter during deliberations that it took the jury less than an hour to come back with a verdict of not guilty.

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I served on my first jury earlier this year, for a possession of a controlled substance case. We found the defendent guilty, but it took us about 2 hours of discussion to reach that verdict.

In the end, she did have the pills in her purse and didn't dispute that. She claimed her friend had asked her to hold them and she didn't know what they were. We found it possible but not probable that that's true. In any case the jury instructions to us were very clear that we could, but did not have to, consider whether or not the defendent KNEW what the pills were when she had them in her possession.

What made the decision difficult is that we all believed the defendent to be working hard to turn her life around and were concerned about ruining the strides she had already made. So there was debate about whether or not to grasp onto the fact that it was at least possible she didn't know what the pills were in order to acquit her. But there really was no getting around the fact that she did indeed have the pills, and her friend's testimony about having given her the pills wasn't exactly credible.

i think we were all relieved when the judge came to talk to us afterward and told us that she likely would sentence probation and a treatment program, with no jail time.

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