A Verdict To Be Remembered

You're not going to read about this in your newspaper, hear it on TV or radio. It didn't even make the Hudson, New York, Register Star or the Columbia County Independent . But it's very important anyway.

This week a jury in Columbia County Court in New York State engaged in a very unusual process. In the case of People v. Fred Credle, the jury initially decided that the accused was guilty of robbery in the third degree and it annnounced it's verdict in open court. The defense counsel asked, as is always done in these circumstances, that the jury be polled. Asked if this was his verdict, juror number 1 said it was. Asked if this was her verdict, juror 2 said it was NOT. Everyone was astounded. Nobody had ever seen such a thing before. So after consulting the statutes, the jurors were sent back to deliberate until they reached a unanimous verdict.

Several hours later, the jury announced that it was deadlocked, 9 for acquittal, 2 for conviction and one undecided. In other words, from 12-0 for conviction, a conviction that could have resulted in 15 years imprisonment, the jury was now 9-2-1. Told to deliberate some more, the jurors returned 2 hours later with a verdict. Not guilty on everything. So from 12-0 for conviction the jury went to 12-0 for acquittal. The accused walked out the front of the courthouse arm in arm with his lawyer.

How does one explain this? You might conclude that the jury was completely irresponsible and that it was only when one of the members (juror number 2) was conscience stricken, that she forced the others to pay attention. Or you might conclude that it was a power struggle and that the jurors didn't care what they decided as long as they got to go home quickly. Or you might have some other equally good theory. Interviews with the jurors afterwards didn't really explain what had happened. And no, it was not my case.

This wasn't a death case. But it was a serious case. One in which the accused could spend every single cheerless day of 15 years in prison. And its seriousness was obvious to the jurors, the lawyers, and the judge. So how do you explain this capriciousness? How do you explain such a bizarre turnaround? How can you have confidence in such a jury verdict? In any jury verdict? How do you feel about a deliberative process that is so peculiar?

As long as there's a death penalty, there are going to be jury verdicts. And as long as there are jury verdicts, there are going to be these kinds of capricious, arbitrary, bizarre, unprincipled verdicts. Some will be announced and corrected by the jurors. Some won't be. My point is really quite small: the only assurance that there won't be an irretrievable miscarriage of justice is abolition of the death penalty.
***Written by David Seth Michaels.......http//:www.davidseth.com