I have tried three cases in the past month. Two of my juries returned a guilty verdict in spite of what I thought was enough to create reasonable doubt in the state’s case.
I talked to the juries afterward. It was pretty clear to me from what they said and their body language that they were left with some residual doubt about my client’s guilt – not “unreasonable doubt” like the state says in their closing arguments or a “possible doubt” but a real doubt.
It was also pretty clear to me that they had expected my client and I to not only introduce doubt into the equation but “prove” our case somehow, despite the court’s instruction that that was not our job.
I say all this to point out two things:
If you are called to jury duty and you are selected to be a juror on a criminal case, you need to commit yourself to returning a not guilty verdict, IN SPITE OF YOUR EMOTIONS, if the state does not prove its case BEYOND ALL REASONABLE DOUBT. If you are left at the end of the case “not sure what happened” or “could see that he (the Defendant) may not be guilty” (actual words of my jurors this past month – who convicted) you HAVE to acquit the Defendant. It doesn’t matter if you feel like what happened was wrong, upsetting, or immoral. Unless the state has proved it to you, you have to put those emotions aside and cannot make the Defendant pay for what happened.
If you are a Defendant, you need to be aware of the risk you are taking by having a jury trial. Sometimes there really is no downside (there wasn’t in any of my cases this month), but sometimes there is. You may be risking decades more in prison. You may be turning down a deferred adjudication. These are real risks. And your jury may not be convinced. Your jury may doubt your guilt. AND THEY MAY CONVICT ANYWAY. You can never be sure what a jury is going to do.
Lastly, this may be controversial but I cannot help but notice, that both of my “guilty” clients were people of color and my not guilty one was white. It is not out of the question that this played into the jurors decisions.
Just some things to think about. Please, if you are called for jury duty and feel like you cannot be fair – and cannot acquit if the evidence does not prove the case beyond all reasonable doubt – tell the attorneys who question you. If you can be fair, if you can hold the state to its burden, and can acquit if the case calls for it – don’t think up an excuse to get off. We need you to make this system work and stop bad prosecutions.