Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Jury's Mind, Worcester Style

It's not O.J., but Larry Cirignano skipping on his charges raises that stereotypical question — What was that jury thinking?

Do to the diligence and solid reportage of Mike Benedetti over at Pie and Coffee, you get the inside view fresh! Well, not so fresh, rather more like third hand, from the juror to Mike to me to you.

Anyway, I have sat on several criminal trials and attended part of this one. Experientially, I have no doubt that Lightnin' Hopkins' lament was never more applicable than in trials, when he said, "I don't understand why people don't understand the way that I do."

I find myself wanting to ask jurors, "Didn't you listen to the evidence?" and "Do you understand the law as it applies to this, the way the judge explained it?" It sometimes seems juries can kind of adhere to the requirements, but often get all artistic with the law, like a cop at a late-night remote traffic stop.

In the Cirignano case, the burden of proof was very low on such relatively low-level charges. On assault and battery, he clearly shoved Sarah Loy and she even was hurt. The prosecution only had prove that he touched her when she didn't want it and that this might have hurt her. That's misdemeanor A&B. The other change of interfering with her right to free speech brought all kinds of extreme song-and-dance routines from the defense and ended up clouded enough that the judge finally took that charge off the table with a directed acquittal before the jury would even get it.

Granted, these were pretty small beer as charges go, but they do go to the core of our First Amendment rights. Does each of us have the right to reasonable protest without being physically abused? Does having a permit for a political rally in a public space give your group the right to act as police during the event? This trial answered neither.

At the trial, Mike and I wondered to each other what the jury was thinking, even before Cirignano skipped. We mused that we'd love to talk with one or more jurors. Well, Mike did and provides a long interview with the anonymous juror.

The transcript is fascinating and deserves a read in its entirety. Among some points that caught my interest were:
  • As we all suspected, the jurors in the main refused the judge's instructions and developed their own definition of A&B ("...when the victim ends up bloody, or beaten, or with a black eye.").
  • Most jurors also were concerned about whether Cirignano might face jail if they convicted him, regardless of the judge telling them several times and ways that they were not to concern themselves with the penalties.
  • The jurors were emotionally swayed by testimony of daughters of rally participants. Despite the girls' being contradicted by police and others, the jurors put a lot of weight on the girls.
  • The bulk of the jury were not strong First Amendment folk, rather they felt, "This should never have gone to trial, because she sshouldn't have pressed charges."
  • They also made the deliberations about same-sex marriage when told not to do so.
Reading the transcript gave the me the same creepy feeling as on some trials where I have been a juror. The cold light of reason shine very dimly in jury rooms.

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John Hosty said...

This is of course the same stomping grounds that led Ben LaGuer to where he is now. Indeed, juries in this area of the state don't seem so concerned with facts.

Thanks for posting a retort to the rightards constant assertion that Cirignano is innocent because a jury found him so. I had to laugh at the OJ analogy, I thought of the same thing.

Michael E. Kerpan Jr. said...

Long ago -- in what seems like another life -- I was heavily involved with two jury trials. One we won, the other we lost. In both cases, I thought the jury was flat out wrong. (And -- in the case we lost -- the judge actually agreed with us -- to a large extent).

I've always been rather scared of our nation's trust in juries since that time.

massmarrier said...

That's understandable.

And from a different perspective, of a juror, I have been frustrated by arrogant and incompetent prosecution. On one child abuse case, we went into deliberations feeling that the stepfather was likely guilty of all charges of sexual abuse against his pubescent stepdaughter, while mom did nothing. Yet the Suffolk County assistant DA brought evidence in only one of several charges. We could not convict with no evidence and it was infuriating. We did find him guilty of the one, but to this day, I resent the laziness of the prosecutor.

Yet, I overheard him whining to the judge afterward while the judge nodded instead of telling him he had failed his duty.

Michael E. Kerpan Jr. said...

Unless juries are allowed to take notes and to have (appropriate) questions asked and answered, I find the process doomed to failure. Adversarial gamesmanship (often, as you note, sloppily executed) is no way to find the truth.