Jury Pools And The Guilt-Minded

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.

Ugh.

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22 Comments

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22 responses to “Jury Pools And The Guilt-Minded

  1. Jessie

    I wonder that a lot, too, John: Where does this American bloodlust come from? Especially since our constitution is specifically set up to deter it.

    I don’t know the answer, of course, but I can toss out a few guesses. One would be that, post Civil Rights, the way to legally discriminate became the criminal justice system. (If you haven’t read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, you would probably like it.) But post-Civil Rights, we’ve been inundated with the specter of the criminal black man and how the system coddles him at the expense of his victims. (Willie Horton is among the most prominent examples of this, and we could maybe even go back to the origins of law enforcement in rounding up runaway slaves, but that might be going too far back.)

    Anyway, from there, the idea that the system “coddles criminals” is easily extended to anyone who’s accused of a crime. The general public has a very, very unsophisticated understanding of the court system. I’m not claiming my own understanding is particularly refined — there’s quite often legal stuff that I don’t understand — but I’m talking about….for example, where I live, we have a prominent convict who is very likely about to get a vacate-and-remand from circuit court this month. There are a number of interrelated reasons for this, and they’re actually quite important reasons. But to the braying mob, he’s “gonna get off on a technicality.” As if it all boiled down to the prosecution missing a deadline or forgetting to type something into their briefs. But that’s simply not true. The reasons this conviction is likely to be vacated are somewhat complicated, but they speak to very important aspects of whether he got a fair trial and what the law required for a conviction.

    So am I saying part of it is people are kinda ignorant? Yeah….and then add into that Nancy Grace, et. al., and they just feed this ignorance. They convince the ignorant mob that it’s not ignorant, but noble.

    I still think a large part of the reason that the Casey Anthony/Amanda Knox/Jodi Arias….even go back to Scott Peterson or Jon Benet Ramsey cases….stick in the public mind has a lot to do with the “murder mystery” aspect. They remain in the public consciousness because it is so unclear what actually happened and people enjoy the parlor game of trying to put the pieces together.

    The rise of the Internet and then eventually social media and cameras in the courtroom certainly haven’t hurt, although they don’t all apply to all of these cases (there was no Facebook during the Jon Benet Ramsey investigation, for example, and the Amanda Knox trial was not only not televised, but took place in a language most Americans don’t understand). But the Internet certainly hasn’t hurt as far as keeping these cases alive in the public mind.

    What it doesn’t explain is why the most fanatical tend to be pro-guilt. The ONLY exception I can think of to that is Amanda Knox where there are equally fanatical people on the pro-innocence side as well (probably far more of them, actually, though the smaller pro-guilt side is equally fanatical). I’ll chalk that one up to an outlier because it was prosecuted in a different country, although it does prove that the braying mob COULD go either direction and makes it more puzzling as to why they are almost always heavily pro-guilt.

    One alarming thing I’ve heard about juries of late is that they’re using crime scene evidence during deliberations to browbeat any jurors leaning towards acquittal. So the jury not only sees these disturbing, gory images during the trial itself, but the pro-guilt jurors will bring those images into deliberations and use them to further the work of the prosecutor — even though they rarely speak to who actually did the deed. So I think we could also toss into the mix that such crime scene evidence is now being allowed in at all. I don’t know how recent that is, but as I understand it, there was a time that crime scene photos were considered too prejudicial for a jury to see. And, of course, if the jury sees them, quite often the rest of the public will see them as well.

    OH!! And while I’m writing a long post, I must tell you! The Cassation Court in Italy came out with its final report on the Knox case…..you’re not going to believe their ruling: That she was present during the murder, but didn’t commit it. No, I am not kidding! Cassation’s final ruling on the case is almost identical to my theory. It’s throwing the entire Knox Internet following into a tizzy on both sides…..and I’m quite enjoying it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. GB

    It’s quite fascinating how the “guilt-minded” (a nice epithet!) are not only fanatical, but also usually form a big majority, even when the defendant is innocent and the case is not even close.

    In addition to the cases you mention, I would cite especially the cases of Oscar Pistorius and Shrien Dewani.

    Certainly pre-trial publicity plays a part. It’s smart to question the strength of a case when the prosecution seem to be protesting too much.

    I will never forget this report : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/southafrica/8191642/Honeymoon-murder-Shrien-Dewani-is-a-monkey-says-South-African-police-chief.html

    Quote

    South Africa’s chief of police has described Shrien Dewani, the British businessman accused of arranging the murder of his wife during their Cape Town honeymoon, as a “monkey”.

    General Bheki Cele insisted that his force are right to consider Mr Dewani a killer, saying: “A monkey came all the way from London to have his wife murdered here.”

    End Quote

    I immediately thought to myself : “he’s innocent”! And of course that was the case.

    Like

  3. justusforusall

    Great piece! And regarding the media’s dirty hands in this, here are excerpts from HLN’s broadcast on January 3, 2013, the very first day of Jodi Aria’s trial:

    http://justice4jodi.wikispaces.com/HLN+Pre-Trial+Verdict

    Like

    • justusforusall

      January 2, that is…

      Like

    • Jodi Arias is an admitted murderer. She has followers who insist it was self defense and fail to see the “overkill” or premed. You can’t debate with them… they do not want to see her guilt.

      Like

      • justusforusall

        Jodi Arias is not an admitted murderer. She admitted to killing him which is not the same thing. And her supporters did not see a fair trial (something that is important to us) while we realize that for you folks the definition of a fair trial is any trial where you agree with the outcome, no matter how it’s achieved.

        Liked by 1 person

        • You are obviously one of her cult members. Killing is murder. There is absolutely no way he was attacking her in a fashion that she couldn’t get away. No self defense, no fear, pure unadulterated murder. I know this, I was domestically abused. You are living a fantasy thinking she is pure and innocent. Dream on…. I won’t debate further with such an ignorant person.

          Like

          • justusforusall

            I have no idea where I said she was “pure and innocent”. I said it she didn’t get a fair trial… And, no, killing is NOT always murder.

            I also don’t care to debate further with such a rude and immature person who has no clue how to carry on a civilized conversation.

            Liked by 1 person

          • heather4u2

            melissmalou, you said, ”There is absolutely no way he was attacking her in a fashion that she couldn’t get away.”

            How are you so sure of that? Were you there? No, you weren’t. Therefore you can’t be sure, can you, it’s wishful thinking, that’s how sure you are.

            Like

        • Oh Lordy , not you again!

          You obviously didn’t read what you wrote JFUA. Jodi arias is not a murderer. Then you wrote* She admitted to killing him which is not the same thing* are you kidding us? Got to be. The only reason her supporters did see a fair trial is , most of you didn’t even watch it and then you make comments. All I ever heard from any of you is how bad our country is. She had a fair trial. Arias even tried to blackmail the courts into saying if she doesn’t get, 25 years, she was going to drag Travis and his family in the mud. She even had the audacity to try and do it. So yes JFUA it was more than a fair trial.

          Liked by 2 people

      • heather4u2

        melissmalou it is very clear that you are one of the guilt-minded.

        Like

    • heather4u2

      justusforusall, don’t you just love their ‘facts’ ?! Just looked at the link and the first thing I saw, ”But the fact is, Nancy, she used sex to have power over him.”
      The power of wishful thinking is truly incredible.

      Like

  4. Jodi Arias got justice. She is a cold-blooded murderer. She got a wonderful defense, was on the stand 18 days, etc. Poor example!

    Like

    • heather4u2

      Jodi Arias did not get justice and she is not a cold-blooded murderer nor did she premeditate murder. The State hid evidence and lied.

      Like

      • Oh Lordy , not you again!

        lol lol lol …wow you are certainly a real winner there Heather. You didn’t even watch the trial. You followed the lies of your PRESHUS one. In America and EVERYONE watching the trial, there was no way THE STATE could have HID anything. But your PRESHUS one did. Why did she DESTROY her COMPUTER. Now who’s hiding?

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Jessie

    On a thread about why the public is guilt-obsessed and why we focus on a handful of high-profile defendants….commenters show up to perseverate on the guilt of high-profile defendants….
    #irony

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh Lordy , not you again!

    Being guilt -obsessed with Jodi Arias began with her own doing. She is the one who ran after interview after interview. She is the one who became buddies with another woman while in Arizona jail who was on trial for hammering her husband to death. They both tried the DV card and lost on it. They both tried to blame everyone else for their actions but their-self. Jodi changed her story 3xs before the trial. SOME people are GUILTY before they go to trial. The only thing I can say about that is, If your guilty its going to show through no matter if it is before or after the trial. How can you blame people for thinking that way when the guilty has done nothing but prove it by their own actions?

    Like

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