One of my esteemed readers (not my Mum, the other one) asked a question following my post showing trial verdicts. Here it is:
I have been a reader since early on so do not take out of context but about how often do juries find anyone innocent? Based on my following not very often ! Pay raise for you guys in my next vote for sure.
First of all, you are absolutely right. About the pay raise. Vote twice on that issue, if you can.
Second of all, thanks for the faithful readershipnessalizing. Much appreciated. (You too, Mum.)
Third, about the apparent abundance of guilty verdicts. I should start by being picky about your terminology: juries (and judges) don't find people innocent, they find them not guilty. That's because there is no burden on the defendant to prove anything, its on us to prove his guilt. So, if we fail to do so, the jury returns a "not guilty" verdict, rather than one declaring his innocence.
I should also reassure you that when I report verdicts I don't accidentally leave the "not guilty" ones out. Not a bad idea, though, thanks for giving me the idea . . . .
I think the answer to your question is twofold. One of those folds will make some people roll their eyes, so I'll get it over with. I believe that the vast majority of people who get to the pretrial stage are indeed guilty of the crime charged. By the time the jury files through the door, the defense lawyer has pointed out all weaknesses, the ADA has scoured the evidence for holes, and (one hopes and prays) if the chap charged is truly innocent it would be apparent and a dismissal forthcoming.
The next fold is that very often a trial is less about guilt and more about an appropriate punishment. Remember, a trial is in two parts: the guilt phase, and the punishment phase. So sometimes the issue of guilt is the easy one. The harder issue, and one the lawyers have not been able to agree on during plea negotiations, is what punishment the defendant deserves.
For example, several years ago I tried a theft case. The fellow had stolen two watches from Target. He believed that his punishment should have been a small fine, whereas my position was that he'd been convicted of theft nine times previously, and a small fine would hardly be a deterrent. (I know what you're thinking, but he was neither a kleptomaniac nor a drug addict. He'd just developed a habit of stealing things worth very little, and then saying "But it's only worth a few bucks.")
His case, because of the prior convictions, was a state jail felony, with a punishment range of six months to two years in jail. I think I offered somewhere in the region of a year (roughly what he'd served for the last one). As I said, he disagreed and the most he agreed to was"time served" for his day or two in jail after the arrest.
So, we tried the case to a jury. I played the video of him stealing the watches and the store security manager testified that he'd seen the whole thing. Kind of a slam dunk. In fact, the jury came back after deliberating for six minutes.
In the punishment phase I showed a chart highlighting his thefts, one after the other. Now, you should know he testified during the trial and admitted them, and then lied about stealing the watches. He said he was going to show them to his girlfriend (who was outside the store for some reason) so she could chose which one she wanted to buy him for his birthday.
Anyway, they gave him 21 months, three fewer than the max. Afterwards, they told me they didn't like his lying on the stand, and they didn't like his failure to accept responsibility. One guy was mad that they could not have given him more. Draconian? Some would say so. But I don't, and the fact that 12 members of the community got to decide made me think perhaps it was a fair result.
A long answer to your question, dear Reader, but I hope a satisfactory one.