Thursday, February 20, 2014

Staying on task

Earlier this week Amy Goodman was talking about the verdict in the trial of the man accused of killing Jordan Davis. She made a comment along the lines of there were a handful of jurors fighting for Jordan Davis during deliberations. The implication was that justice was not served in that case.

I must disagree with Ms. Goodman on this point. It wasn't the job of the twelve jurors to "fight" for justice for Jordan Davis. It was the job of the twelve men and women in the box to listen to the evidence presented and determine whether or not the government proved each and every element of its case beyond all reasonable doubt.

Jordan Davis wasn't on trial. He was the alleged victim. Michael Dunn, the man who shot Mr. Davis, wasn't on trial. What was on trial was the government's evidence in support of the charges.

If there were jurors in the jury room who were "fighting" for Jordan Davis, then those jurors were violating the oath they took when they were sworn in by the judge. They swore to uphold the law and to render a verdict - not a particular verdict, just a verdict.

I know there were some serious overtones and undertones in this case. I understand the vague similarities between the killing of Mr. Davis and the killing of Trayvon Martin made this case a lightning rod of sorts.

But whether or not Florida's "stand your ground" law is the underlying factor in both killings isn't the point of the trial. For those who think the stand your ground law is a bad idea and should be repealed, that is the function of the state legislature. Petition lawmakers. Vote for challengers to those who supported the stand your ground law. Picket the state capitol. But let's not confuse policy for justice.

You don't want jurors going back into the jury room and making policy decisions. Their job isn't to make the law - it's only to follow the law. Yes, jurors sometimes choose not to follow the law and render a verdict they think is fair. We call it jury nullification. It's discouraged, but it's an inherent part of allowing ordinary citizens to weigh the evidence and render a verdict.

But what Amy Goodman is talking about is not jury nullification. She's talking about ignoring the jury charge and ignoring the instructions given by the judge. She's talking about casting aside the presumption of innocence and shifting the burden of proof.

A jury cannot decide upon an outcome and work backwards to justify it. It's the very practice, carried out by appellate judges, that has resulted in the emasculation of the Fourth Amendment. It's that type of logic that has brought us the spectacle of police officers faxing in fill-in-the-blank search warrants to judges who volunteered to sign them so that we can strap down a motorist accused of a misdemeanor and jab a needle in their arm.

A juror's job, quite simply, is to answer one little, simple question -- did the government prove its case beyond all reasonable doubt. It's a yes-or-no question. Those folks in the box aren't there to send a message to anyone. They aren't there to support law enforcement or to support order in society. They aren't there to fight for the alleged victim. They aren't there to do anything but answer that one little question.

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