Monday, April 1, 2013

Drawing a line

Adam Poole, a member of what we call the prosecution function, took issue the other day with my post regarding jury selection in my speeding case. Now, before I go any further, I want to say that I appreciate Mr. Poole's give-and-take in the comments section. I respect Mr. Poole for signing his name to his comments instead of doing it under the cloak of anonymity.

However, it doesn't mean that he's not wrong.

As a refresher, one of the questions I asked the panel was whether they would give the testimony of a police officer more credibility, not because of any specialized training or experience, but simply because he pins a badge to his uniform and carries a gun.

My view is that anyone who answers that question in the affirmative has indicated a bias toward the state and should be stricken for cause. Mr. Poole argues that the judge was correct in not striking the panelists.

Now, a juror is certainly permitted to give more weight to the testimony of an individual who has some type of specialized training or experience. It goes without saying that a juror can certainly give more credibility to the testimony of a doctor regarding a plaintiff's injuries than to a lay person with no medical training.

But that's not what we're talking about here.

In a criminal trial the defendant is presumed innocent unless the state is able to prove each and every element of the alleged offense beyond all reasonable doubt. Now let's take our speeding case as an example. We know that the officer who issued the ticket is going to testify. We can also presume that the defendant is going to testify as well. That being the case, if a juror is going to give the officer's testimony more credibility simply because he's a police officer, that presumption of innocence is out the window. And that's because if the juror says that he will give more weight to the officer's testimony before he's heard any evidence, he is not presuming that the defendant is innocent unless proven guilty. And that's the problem.

Now, in Mr. Poole's defense, in a great many cases the police officer didn't observe the actual commission of a criminal offense - the officer is investigating after the fact. If the officer isn't the main witness, then it matters less whether a juror is going to give his testimony more weight than someone else's because that juror will take into account the officer's role in the investigation.

But he's not getting off the hook that easy today. If he sees no problem in a prospective juror stating that he would give an officer's testimony more credibility simply because he wears a badge and carries a gun, where to we draw the line?

Feel free to stop me when I cross the line...

Would you be more inclined to believe a witness is lying because he's a police officer?

Would you give more credibility to the testimony of a man, simply because he's a man?

Would you give more credibility to the testimony of a nun, simply because she's a nun?

Would you give more credibility to the testimony of a left-handed person, simply because she's left-handed?

Would you give more credibility to the testimony of a protestant, simply because he's a protestant?

Would you give more credibility to the testimony of a person from up north, simply because she's from up north?

Would you give more credibility to the testimony of a UT graduate, simply because he graduated from UT?

Would you give more credibility to the testimony of a person over the age of 40, simply because she's over the age of 40?

Would you give more credibility to the testimony of a person with green eyes, simply because they're eyes are green?

Would you give more credibility to the testimony of a person without an Hispanic surname, simply because they don't have an Hispanic surname?

Would you give more credibility to the testimony of a white person, simply because they're white?

2 comments:

Adam Poole said...

Paul this is the second time that one of my comments has been used as the basis for a new blog topic. I don't think my comments are nearly that exciting to warrant a whole new conversation. All I ever do is cite and quote boring caselaw. Won't happen again.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Don't feel bad, Adam. He does a blog post every time I comment too.

The lesson is that when Paul gets a comment, that is newsworthy.

Just kidding, Paul!