Here in Rochester we recently had an interesting and high profile murder case that ended in a hung jury. The Defendant’s name is Charlie Tan and you can read the basic allegations here.
We’re not going to get into that as much as the dynamics of the jury, that deliberated for a week before the judge pulled the plug and declared a mistrial. To a trial attorney those dynamics are both fascinating and instructive.
According to one local news reporter:
jurors said they began with 9-3 in favor of acquitting Charles Tan and ended 8-4 in favor of guilty.
So. Three people who were guilt minded managed to convince another five to change their minds over 50 hours of heated deliberations and a solid week cooped up in a jury room. And they were upset that the judge pulled the plug because I’m sure they felt they could convince the rest:
“We were shocked,” said juror Jennifer McGoff of Greece, following the declaration of a mistrial. “We wanted more time.”
Juror Jeff Capamaggio of Brockport agreed: “It was very possible we would have gotten there, I think we would have done it this afternoon.”
McGoff and Capamaggio said the jury never stopped working, and members were actively trying to reach a verdict despite several “fence-sitters.”
Needless to say, the quotes come from guilt minded jurors.
There is one thing that social media have plainly revealed in cases like Casey Anthony’s, Amanda Knox’s and Jodi Arias‘ (check some of the 491 comments to that last post): the guilt minded tend to be fervent. Even fanatical. They think of those who might not go along as “fence-sitters”, at best.
Why is that?
Some of it has to do with the poisoning of the jury pool, we think. An article in the Washington Post yesterday dealt with body cameras for police and public access to the video thus generated, but what most struck us in the article was what was inadvertently revealed:
In 36 states and the District this year, lawmakers introduced legislation to create statewide rules governing the use of body cameras, often with the goal of increasing transparency.
Of 138 bills, 20 were enacted, The Post found. Eight of those expanded the use of body cameras. However, 10 set up legal roadblocks to public access in states such as Florida, South Carolina and Texas. And most died after police chiefs and unions mounted fierce campaigns against them.
Police officials defend that effort, saying overly lax rules could end up helping criminals. Jury pools could be tainted by the general release of video evidence, making it difficult to win convictions.
This argument comes from the group that feeds stories of every arrest to the media; ensures a person’s “mug-shot” is publicized; stages “perp-walks” for their favored journalists. They are so aware of their own efforts to taint the jury pool that they mount “fierce” campaigns to prevent the shoe being placed on the other foot.
But we don’t want to place all the blame on police and their unions. There’s a base impulse inside all of us, a sub-rational and primitive drive to externalize the wrongdoer and expiate ourselves through our enthusiastic vilification and punishment of them. In the guilt minded this impulse is very strong, and the law enforcement community merely taps into it because they can, and because know how “powerful” it is. That they feel so threatened by evidence supporting a counter-argument shows they are afraid of reason.
A civilized people have no fear of reason. Quite the contrary, really.