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Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 08 May 2014

-Norm Pattis: One Trial Is Enough


Jury BoxIn criminal cases where a jury unanimously finds the defendant is Not Guilty, the process is over with the government having no right to appeal the acquittal. But when juries are split, it is a different matter. Whether the Not Guilty vote is maintained by a lone, holdout juror, or whether the majority voted for acquittal with only a few jurors in favor of conviction, a non-unanimous verdict results in a hung jury, affording the prosecution who failed to prove its case a complete, legal do over. This can occur more than once if another hung jury results. Connecticut-based trial criminal defense and civil rights attorney Norm Pattis argues that one trial should be enough when the prosecution fails to prove its case.

Norm Pattis: One trial ought to be enough for any man

Four propositions are central in a federal criminal trial.

First, a defendant is presumed innocent. Jurors are told that the presumption of innocence alone is sufficient to win an acquittal.

Next, the government bears the entire burden of proof. A defendant need prove nothing at all.

Third, the government must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, the law’s highest standard. The standard is so high that if jurors can conceive of a reasonable explanation of events consistent with innocence, they are required to render a verdict of not guilty.

Finally, all 12 jurors must agree in order to reach a verdict — the unanimity requirement.

I understand these propositions. What I don’t understand is why the courts fail to take them seriously.

Brittany Paz and I tried the client’s case in Hartford. The case went to the jury on a Friday afternoon. At the close of the court day on Monday, jurors sent out a note. They were unable to agree on any of the counts the government charged. In other words, the government had failed to meet its burden of proof.
That should have ended the case right there, but it did not.

I don’t know what the division was among members of the jury. Assume it was 11-1 in favor of conviction. In such a case, the government has failed to meet its burden of proof, at least in the eyes of one juror. If unanimity is required, and the defendant truly does not need to prove a thing, why not dismiss?

Click through to read this entire article, arguing against prosecutorial do overs—let alone unlimited ones—when the government fails to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Pattis explains that there is no official limit to the number of times defendants can be run through the legal wringer, citing a case in which the prosecution failed to secure a conviction THREE TIMES before it finally abandoned its harassment of the defendant. In this way, government can severely punish not just defendants, but their loved ones and supporters as well, even though they have never been proven guilty of any offense. They can be subjected for YEARS to being financially drained, very publicly dragged through the mud, and emotionally battered by the uncertainty of their legal status as they are hauled through the legal process over and over at taxpayer expense. This shows a blatant disregard for fundamental principles of justice, Pattis argues.