Thursday, May 17, 2012

The verdict was neither right nor wrong

A jury in Harris County found former Houston police officer Andrew Blomberg not guilty of official oppression in the beating of teenager Chad Holley back in 2010. Reaction to the verdict has been all over the map.

Local black leaders decried the acquittal equating it to racism. Police officers were happy as the acquittal makes it less likely that officers will face reprisals for excessive use of force. Mayor Annise Parker stated that while she didn't agree with the verdict she respected it.
“I certainly don’t agree with the verdict, and I support the chief of police in his actions in relation to these officers,” Parker said at her regularly scheduled press conference this morning. “They will never again be Houston police officers whatever the verdict is in the criminal trial.”
Over at the defense bar reactions were mixed. There are those who said the jury got it wrong and others who supported the verdict and cast aspersions on the integrity of those who dared question the jury.

I wasn't in the courtroom and I don't know what evidence the jurors heard and saw. I know what I think - but that doesn't really count for much. I also know that this debate on whether the jurors got it right or wrong is completely off-base. You see, verdicts aren't right and verdicts aren't wrong; they just are.
“They just said to African Americans, they just said black people, that white people can do whatever they want and get away with it,” Quanell shouted outside the courtroom as other activists screamed expletives. “They just sent a message that our lives don’t mean a damn thing.”
The same attorneys who think the jury got it right are the same ones who think another jury got it wrong when they convicted someone's client; and vice versa. When we debate whether the jury was right or wrong our opinions are colored by what we've read or heard about the case long before it went to trial. We base our opinions on our own experiences and through the prism of our own ideologies.

A juror has to make his decision based upon what he sees or hears in the courtroom. What that juror is seeing isn't reality - it's an artificial construct built by two forces in opposition to one another. That juror is going to be someone who hasn't followed a case too closely so he, presumably, doesn't sit down in the jury box with a prejudice, or a bias, toward one side or the other.

The six jurors in the Blomberg case did their civic duty, and, for that, I'm very appreciative. But they didn't get anything right. And they didn't get anything wrong. They simply made a decision.

And that's what it is.

2 comments:

A Harris County Lawyer said...

I'm glad you wrote this post.

I find it flummoxing that as the Defense Bar continually call for something to be done about police brutality and then shout down someone for failing to applaud the jury's verdict. The bottom line is how you succinctly put it: the jury makes the decision and that's something to be commended in its own right.

On the other hand, the Defense Attorney's Bible (To Kill a Mockingbird) heralds the ideal of a jury doing the right thing despite the outside public pressures.

In the end, there is no satisfying answer.

Paul B. Kennedy said...

There is a fine line we walk when those being defended are the very ones who trample on the rights of the citizenry.