In more than a dozen years of conducting and observing felony jury trials, at both the state and federal level, we’ve seen enough jury nullification to know it’s a real phenomenon, and not merely anecdotal. We’ve seen jurors refuse to convict the most obviously guilty defendant, because they felt sorry for her, or because they didn’t want to put another young black man in prison, or because they had some random political or religious agenda. We’ve seen jurors vote to convict, even though they had reasonable doubt, because it was obvious to them that the guy must have committed the crime, even if the evidence wasn’t really there.
In other words, jurors’ assessment of the evidence often has nothing to do with their actual vote on guilt or innocence. They take it on themselves to act as a “conscience of the community,” and frustrate the whole point of their role. (For more on how our jury system defeats justice, see our previous post here.)
The purpose of a trial jury is nothing more nor less than to decide the official version of the facts. That’s all. Society needs to make a decision about what to do in this case.
The decision is purely formulaic, in criminal law: if and only if we have facts A, B and C, then the defendant has committed crime X. If fact B is missing, crime X did not happen. It’s up to the jury to decide whether A, B and C really are what happened. Whatever the jury decides, that is the official version of the facts. The system can now take whatever action is appropriate under those facts, and both the parties and society can turn the page and get on with their lives.
[Truth — that’s “Truth” with a capital “T” — is not the goal. It’s (more…)