Thursday, March 31, 2011

Reasonable doubt?

Harris County (Texas) Commissioner Jerry Eversole (we might need to start calling him Teflon) walked out of the federal courthouse in Houston, Texas on Wednesday after a judge declared a hung jury.

Mr. Eversole was charged with accepting a bribe, conspiracy and filing false tax returns.

The feds alleged that Mr. Eversole had accepted bribes from real estate developer and personal friend Michael Surface. Mr. Eversole argued that any gifts that exchanged hands had nothing to do with county business and were private transactions between he and Mr. Surface.

After four days of deliberations, the jurors (once again) informed US District Court Judge David Hittner that they were deadlocked and that there were no expectations that they could come to a unanimous verdict. After receiving the note, Judge Hittner informed the jurors that if they could not reach a unanimous verdict another jury would have to be picked and all of the evidence would have to be presented again.

In other words, he asked the jurors to do their civil duty and save the feds some money.

His exhortation was to no avail as the jurors came back after some more deliberations without a unanimous verdict on any of the counts.

As to be expected, US Attorney John Pearson announced that los federales were prepared to tee it up again in their quest to convict Mr. Eversole.

In recent weeks both Scott Greenfield and Gideon have written about what beyond a reasonable doubt actually means. The jurors in Mr. Eversole's case heard the evidence. They went back in their little room, sat around a conference table and argued for some 18 hours about whether los federales had proven each and every element of their case beyond all reasonable doubt.

They were even castigated by a judge (and, in essence, were told they were wasting taxpayers' money if they couldn't come to a unanimous verdict) and went back and argued some more. Still they couldn't reach a unanimous decision on any of the four charges.

What is clearer evidence of reasonable doubt (other than a unanimous not guilty verdict)? Why should los federales get another bite at the apple when they couldn't prove up their case the first time? Why should Mr. Eversole be forced to cough up even more money to defend himself against charges the prosecutors couldn't prove beyond all reasonable doubt?


Adam Poole said...

I do not think that a hung jury even on a lot of counts implies reasonable doubt on each of those counts. If you look at the jury vote breakdown on the Eversole case he was very close to being convicted on multiple counts.

The vote was 10 to 2 for guilty on two of the counts and 7 to 5 for guilty on other counts (admittedly that's not so persuasive.) With a different jury I think it is entirely possible that he will be convicted on at least one count.

Houston DWI Attorney Paul B. Kennedy, said...

Thanks for your comment, Adam. I think that the very fact a jury could not reach a unanimous verdict that the prosecution had proven its case demonstrates there was reasonable doubt.

It's very possible that a different panel may have convicted him on the same evidence. But that's not the point. The prosecution had their crack at Mr. Eversole and they failed to carry their burden of proof. The state should not be rewarded by getting a second bite at the apple.

Even had the jury been deadlocked at 11-1 on each count I would still make the same argument. The very fact that one juror finds that the state failed to meet its burden is evidence of reasonable doubt.

Adam Poole said...

Well it sounds like you think the right to a unanimous jury verdict should only be granted to the defendant and not the State. We can agree to disagree on that one.

There's no doubt that a hung jury should cause the prosecutor to pause and re-evaluate the strength of his/her case and also whether it is worth the time and expense to retry it. But evaluating and re-evaluating our cases is part of being a prosecutor.

I have also seen unreasonable people hang up juries before, and I do not call them unreasonable because they wouldn't vote guilty, I say it because they told their reasons and it wasn't based on the law or the evidence. One juror refused to convict even though he admitted the case was proven and his reason was that he didn't want him to go to jail over Christmas. I've seen another juror who blatantly admitted he refused to convict a black man. He sincerely apologized for it, but that was his only reason for voting not guilty. These are two examples of 11-1 hung juries where the 11 jurors stated that the system did not work in that trial, and barring a plea bargain, another trial is appropriate.