Saturday, October 31, 2009

Doubting Reasonable Doubt

During my 3 days as a juror, we were told by the judge not to do any independent research on the case since we were supposed to decide on a verdict just by the evidence presented during trial. I think all the jurors followed the rules and we came up with not guilty verdicts on all counts. I also felt most of us thought he was probably guilty but there was ample room for reasonable doubt.

After the trial, I did some research on the Internet. The Orange County court website has a database of prior cases so I searched for the defendant's name and found the case: 09CF1973. If you pull up the record, you can see that he was Found Not Guilty by Jury on all counts on 10/28/2009. So far so good, right?

However, the name search also returned a whole page of cases related to the defendant, ranging from "Riding a bike at night without headlight" to multiple felony convictions. The jury knew from count 5 of the current case that he was a convicted felon (therefore not allowed to own a firearm) but we were not told the nature of the felony and also could not use that fact to determine guilt. Looking through the list of cases, the prior felonies include: unlawful taking of vehicle (66 days in prison), 2nd degree robbery with gang and dangerous weapon enhancement + street terrorism (3 years in prison), and possession of a firearm by a felon (32 months in prison). By my count, the current case is probably his fourth or fifth strike. Wonder what happened to three strikes and you're out?

From all this additional information, I'm now very certain that he committed the crimes in the current case. I think past history is a very good predictor of future behavior and the defendant seems well on his way to being a career criminal. It also appears that he is in one of the many Latino street gangs in Santa Ana. The part that I'm uncomfortable with is that even if we had this additional info, the jury probably would have found him not guilty since the evidence in the current case was weak. If we followed the instructions, then all his priors do not matter. We probably saved him 25 years of prison time but it also looks like he'll be back in court soon. Hopefully he doesn't kill someone next time. :(

Dang it. Now I feel really bad about my first jury duty experience. Most likely we let a guilty felon back on the street. Even worse, if you put us back in the jury room again with this additional info but the same trial evidence, the result would be the same.

Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.
-William Blackstone

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