Monday, December 4, 2017

Ignorance is disgusting

Last week Donald Trump once again displayed his ignorance about how the criminal (in)justice system works in this country when he tweeted out that the verdict in the trial over Kate Steinle's murder was disgraceful. Attorney General Jeff Sessions opened his mouth and displayed his ignorance when he proclaimed that the murder was the result of San Francisco's status as a sanctuary city for immigrants.

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate was acquitted of the charge of murder in a month-long trial in San Francisco, though he was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Now, I don't recall Mr. Trump expressing any outrage at jury verdicts in which police officers were acquitted for killing unarmed an unarmed black man. Quite the opposite, he was quite happy. We can all be angry at a jury for the decision they made but, unless you were in the jury, your view of the case can be quite warped.

Mr. Trump seemed upset that the jury was not told that Mr. Garcia Zarate had crossed the border illegally five times. Well, I've got news for you, Mr. President, such a fact is inadmissible in a murder trial. You see Mr. Garcia Zarate was tried for the specific offenses related to the death of Ms. Steinle and, therefore, the only evidence the jury heard was related to those offenses. You see, Mr. President, in this country (as flawed as our criminal (in)justice system is) we try folks on the evidence related to the crime with which they are charged.

Were the jury to have heard evidence regarding Mr. Garcia Zarate's immigration status they may have made a decision based on something other than the evidence regarding Ms. Steinle's death. They may have been asked to convict a man for murder for no other reason than he wasn't born in this country.

Now that would have been a disgusting verdict.

A jury doesn't hear all the evidence because some of it, sometimes a lot of it, isn't relevant to the case at hand. It is not uncommon for a jury to be excused from the courtroom while the attorneys argue over the admissibility of evidence before the judge. Those reading the newspaper or watching the news (or in attendance) are then made privy to information the jury never heard and will never consider.

The jury that heard the case wasn't trying to make any political statements. Their sole duty was to hear the evidence presented and to make a decision as to whether or not the government had proven their case(s) beyond a reasonable doubt. Just because a jury acquits a person doesn't mean they don't think a crime occurred. It means, instead, that they have more than a reasonable doubt, based on the evidence presented, that the government proved its case.

The jury's job isn't to convict someone - and it isn't to acquit someone. You may think a jury got it wrong, but that is how we decide cases the parties cannot work out on their own. And, in a murder case, sometimes the hardest thing to prove is that the actions of the defendant were intentional. And even though motive is not a required element of a murder case, the absence of a motive can raise reasonable doubt in the mind of a juror.

So, Mr. President, the jury's verdict wasn't disgusting. It was what it was. Using your bully pulpit to try to intimidate future jurors is disgusting.

And as for Mr. Sessions, you took an oath to uphold the Constitution and to seek justice. You're not happy with the verdict. Okay, I get that. However, threatening to file federal charges against Mr. Garcia Zarate is not seeking justice. It is called vindictiveness.

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