Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Juror Who Does His Job!

I just read an interesting story by a reporter from the Washington Post. You can read it here. It describes a trial in which the reporter sat as a juror.

Although the juror believed that the defendant was guilty (even guilty beyond a reasonable doubt) he was prepared to acquit because the police testifying were proven to be lying. Another alternate juror on the case formed the same conclusion and reasoned that the lies were enough to create reasonable doubt.

This is exactly what a jury ought to do - weigh the evidence to determine whether reasonable doubt exists. If the state presents witnesses who are obviously lying, you have to question whether the state's case has any merit at all. Using the facts presented by the case on which the reporter sat, the police officer who initially lied was an eyewitness to part of a drug deal. He lied about where he was in relation to the deal as it went down and also about what he was able to see. Other officers adopted the lie and testified accordingly. The defense attorney proved this and the jury understood and realized that the testimony was not factual.

This is how the system is supposed to work. Yet, time after time, it seems as if the police get a free pass when they testify in court. Even if there are discrepancies in their testimony, the jury believes them. I have heard it put this way, "if the defendant wasn't guilty, they wouldn't have arrested him," so errors in police testimony are harmless.

It is refreshing to see that the system worked, just once (the jury deadlocked 10 - 2 to acquit, a mistrial was declared and the defendant was not retried). It is also refreshing to see the reporter question whether use of this much police time and court time to prosecute someone for a $10.00 drug deal. We do tend to spend a large part of our law enforcement budget on cases like that.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Right to a Public Trial

The United States Supreme Court ruled this week that the right to a public trial is violated by excluding the public from jury selection. In a case out of Georgia, Presley v. Georgia, a single spectator (the defendant's uncle) was present in the court room prior to the jury pool entering the court. The trial judge informed him that he would have to leave the court and also would have to leave the entire floor. He was informed that he would be permitted to return after a jury had been selected.

The defendant's lawyer objected to the exclusion of the public and set up an appeal that ultimately landed in the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court held, in a rare win for criminal defendants, that the Sixth Amendment right to a public trial extended to the jury selection phase of the trial. The case was reversed and remanded back to Georgia for a new trial. It was an unsigned, per curium, opinion so we can't see which justices voted which way. It would have been interesting to analyze that.

Still, sometimes they do the right thing.