“I don’t think it should have been prosecuted. There are bigger things that affect the nation than a possible lie to the FBI.”
—-The forewoman in the just completed Sussman trial, which acquitted Clinton Campaign lawyer Michael Sussman of lying to the FBI when he presented bogus evidence of Trump campaign “collusion” with Russia and said he was doing so as “a private citizen” when in fact he was carrying out the strategy of Hillary Clinton and her campaign.
The breaking story yesterday, covered at Ethics Alarms here, had less than 24 hours hours of innocence in which the responsible response (and mine) was “we should give the jury the benefit of the doubt; they were in the courtroom for the whole trial, we were not.” Now we know, thanks to this woman, that the jury members were under the influence of progressive-programed confusion and bias, and were either incapable of fulfilling the duties of a jury, or prompted by the leadership of this proudly unethical fool, chose not to. Continue reading
In Kenosha, Wissonsin, where Kyle Rittenhouse is standing trial for murder after he shot and killed two protesters during the riots following the shooting of Jacob Blake, an alternate juror was dismissed for making a joke. The juror, a retired white man, said to a court police officer as the officer escorted him to his car, “Why did the Kenosha police shoot Jacob Blake seven times? Because they ran out of bullets!”
HAR! That’s being called a bad joke in the news media: actually, it’s a classic formula joke in the tradition of “Why does a fireman wear red suspenders?,” “Why did the chicken cross the road”? and “How do you know a politician is lying?” (because his/her lips are moving!). Nonetheless, the officer reported the joke to Judge Bruce Schroeder, who called on the juror to explain to him and the lawyers what the joke was and what he meant by it. The juror confirmed that he made a joke but wouldn’t repeat it. That got him kicked off the jury.
This is the first crack in the dam, and there will be more. I was certain this was coming.
Brandon Mitchell, a black, 31-year-old high school basketball coach on the jury that convicted Derk Chauvin, spoke to the Wall Street Journal saying that “staying anonymous wouldn’t help push for change.” If he wants Chauivin to say convicted, he should have kept quiet. From the interview (WSJ has a paywall—sorry):
Mitchell said he was pulled over for no reason by Minneapolis police dozens of times in his early 20s, usually driving his mother’s aging Chrysler Sebring. He said he has always told his players to follow the checklist his mother gave him during these encounters. Take your hat off; announce what you’re doing; be polite; do what you’re told.
Then Mitchell tells the Journal that serving on the jury made him see it was wrong that a person should be so afraid that a police officer could do them harm that they needed to change their behavior, adding,
“That’s also part of the reason why I’m speaking up now because that is a narrative that is horrible…So somebody follows directions or not, they don’t deserve to die. That’s completely ridiculous.”
THEN Mitchell says he “related” to Floyd, saying,
“I just related to it too much.Being big, you know, former athlete and all these things—it just, it really just hit home… It just felt like something that easily could have been me or anybody else that I know.”
Good thinking there, Coach! And America, welcome to the jury system.
Rueful observations in random order:
Well, THAT was certainly unpleasant…made a root canal seem like the warm embrace of a succubus by comparison…
1. An alternate juror in the Chauvin trial gave an interview. She seems like a pretty rational sort, but two comments support the contention that the trial was not a fair one:
- “I did tell them that I saw the settlement run across the bottom of the screen one day…I was not surprised there was a settlement, but I was surprised they announced it beforehand.” She also said she understood that civil trial and criminal trial standards were different, but the fact that the city essentially announced that its police were liable for Floyd’s death cut the legs out from under Chauvin’s defense.
- “I did not want to go through rioting and destruction again and I was concerned about people coming to my house if they were not happy with the verdict.” If any jurors feel that way, it’s not a fair trial.
I haven’t read much commentary on yesterday’s verdict yet. I’m assuming that I’ll have more observations later in the day.
1. Ultimately, it appears that the jury just decided that it wasn’t worth it to acquit Derek Chauvin even if there was reasonable doubt. That’s sad, but the calculation can be defended on utilitarian grounds, meaning that, ironically, the arguably unethical decision to discard the law, individual rights, a fair trial and the integrity of the justice system might have been an ethical decision because it will cause less harm in the long and short run. In other words, it can be defended as a decision in which ethics won and the law lost.
I’m not saying that I would defend it that way, but I acknowledge the argument as respectable.
2. It is important to remember that cases where verdicts were based on emotion, human nature, and sociopolitical dynamics rather than the evidence and strict adherence to the law have occurred periodically, and will continue to do so.
The Nuremberg Trials were travesties from a legal standpoint, and the verdicts “ethical” only in the sense that a formal, solemn statement that some conduct is so heinous that civilization has an obligation to reject it was deemed more important than such niceties as avoiding hypocrisy or respecting the law’s aversion to ex-post facto legal penalties. The trial of the alleged conspirators to murder Lincoln was as rigged as a trial can be. This isn’t an “it happens all the time” excuse for the Chauvin trial, but a reminder that the Chauvin case isn’t the cataclysmic scar on the justice system that many will claim it is.
1. “Nah, there’s no mainstream media bias!“ Naturally, the New York Times has a ticket…The Timed headline in its print edition: “Minnesota Police Kill Another Man As Tensions Build.” Oh, did the jury rule that the Minnesota police officers killed George Floyd already? They didn’t? Then what the hell is the New York Times saying “Another” for?
The news media decided that Derek Chauvin is a murderer and has been repeating that assertion as fact for almost a year now.
2. Wait, the Chaivin jury hasn’t been sequestered? Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson, had argued yesterday that the jurors should be ordered to avoid all media and spend the rest of the trial sequestered, because he feared that rioting in the nearby community where the Wright shooting took place might limit their ability to be fair jurors. The unrest will be at “forefront of the jury’s mind-set,” Nelson argued. He also asked for new interviews with the jurors to determine whether this recent event had already biased them. The judge, Peter Cahill, denied both requests. “This is a totally different case,” the judge held, since the current riots aren’t about a jury verdict but a shooting.
Wow This pretty much convinces me that this is a kangaroo court, and that the judge is trying to do his best to see Chauvin convicted.
I know these stories are stupid, but I love them, and besides, I can’t pass up the chance to correct Jonathan Turley.
Justin Arthur Allen Couch, 25, pictured above, is charged with using a machete to attack the victim in the arm and leg during an argument in Tarrytown, Florida. The victim is alive but may have permanent injuries. Couch, as you can see above, has a drawing of a machete tattooed on his face. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.
Of course, the tattoo doesn’t prove that he’s guilty of a machete attack. It’s circumstantial evidence at best. In fact, if I were defending Couch, I’d be tempted to argue to the jury that the machete should make them question whether Couch was the attacker. Who would be so stupid as to use a machete as a weapon when one is right there on his face? I sure wouldn’t. I’d use a hammer, a golf club, a seafood fork, indeed anything but a machete.
Then again, I would never have a machete tattooed on my face. That act alone raises a rebuttable presumption that Couch is an idiot.
Professor Turley, writing about the case, opines,
Face tattoos are unlikely to be receive assistance from the court in allowing a shroud or covering. The machete tattoo is one of the choices in life that comes back to haunt you in your machete attack case.
The Professor could doubtless make me look like a baboon in a law school class, but he is wrong on this topic, which is a specialty of mine. Turley cites some amusing cases, like the man accused of sexual assault with a forehead where a tattoo reads “I’m a pornstar. I fuck Teen Sluts”…
…and this doofus, who faced charges for multiple crimes….
I haven’t seen this before.
Judge Thomas Ensor of Adams County, Colorado, now retired, sat back and allowed his wife to be empaneled on the jury trying Gary Val Richardson for allegedly firing one or two shots in the direction of police officers during a 2013 standoff.
The judge even thought the situation was funny. He joked during jury selection that lawyers should “be nice to Juror 25. My dinner is on the line.” After the jury was selected and sworn in, Ensor told the lawyers that he had never heard of a sitting judge having a spouse or family member on the jury. “There’s nothing wrong with it,” he said. “I think she’ll be a fine juror. I have not spoken to her about this case.”
One of my rules of thumb for avoiding legal ethics problems in trial is that if you’ve never heard of something being done before, there’s probably a good reason not to be the first to do it. Continue reading
The U.S. Supreme Court today over-ruled, 6-3, its really bad 1972 holding that rights, like the 6th amendment fair trial requirements, were not necessarily incorporated into the states by the 14th. Oregon and Louisiana, astoundingly, did not require unanimous jury verdicts of guilty in criminal cases, allowing 10-2 convictions. In Louisiana, the anomaly was an 1898 relic of the Jim Crow era; I have no idea what Oregon’s excuse was.
Louisianans voted in 2018 to do away with the practice, passing an amendment to the state constitution requiring unanimous verdicts going forward. But up to a hundred prisoners, like Evangelisto Ramos who was serving a life prison sentence after being convicted of murder in a 10-2 jury vote, will get new trials because their convictions came under the old, unconstitutional law and their appeals aren’t exhausted. The case is Louisiana v. Ramos.
Two aspects of the decision are especially noteworthy, other than the fact that its seems obviously correct. Continue reading
The recent post about a Louisiana man sent to prison for 36 years when procsecutors and a jury ignored the fact that the evidence didn’t meet the standard for guilt beyond a reasonable doubt sparked many excellent comments. The tongue-in-cheek suggestion by a commenter that failure to dispense criminal justice competently should earn the same fate as Admiral Ozzel in “Star Wars”—he was strangled to death by an angry Darth Vader’s Dark Force powers—inspired long-time commenter mariedowd to write this Comment of the Day regarding juries, prosecutors and professionalism:
I agree the Ozzel is far too harsh. I think it is hard enough to get reasonably educated and alert jurors. Adding a risk when they don’t really understand the proceedings and follow along when one set of lawyers plays their sympathies or fears better than the other will not improve the situation at all.
I think jury pools should not be linked to voting rolls, because it discourages registering and voting. Non-voters fear the loss of income and time that comes with jury service, AND their vote never accomplishes anything (they think), so why bother? I once got a preliminary call to jury duty halfway across the state when I had serious mobility problems. I was looking at hundreds to thousands of dollars in lost income for a long Federal case. The threat of costs and holes in lives pushes away competent, aware citizens, leaving a high percentage of jury membership to the fringes, and fringes have axes to grind.
Maybe we should attach jury selection to Social Security, as that is a larger pool Using drivers’ licenses is also a possible improvement, because it ties into citizenship. Let’s make jury service less of a sacrifice for people who cannot dump their daily duties for unknown periods with the threat of lost income.
Maybe proximity to the courts should factor into selection, so travel isn’t such a problem. For a courtroom 70 minutes, away my elderly mother was supposed to travel to a strange town by bus for an 8 am call. She simply does not have the energy for all that back and forth, even though she is alert and would make be a competent juror. Jury deliberations should be a juror’s burden, not getting to court: you can’t concentrate on the case if you ache from the journey. I don’t know exactly how to fix this, but the current system sorts out some good potential jurors while attracting less desirable varieties. Continue reading