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Function of Juries & Jurors Doing Justice | 13 Apr 2015

-Is Juror Skepticism of Police Testimony on the Rise?

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Jury BoxIn the wake of numerous, high-profile cases involving questionable police conduct, are jurors becoming more skeptical of testimony from law enforcement? Beth Hundsdorfer reports in the Belleville News-Democrat that jurors may be the case in St. Clair County, Illinois. St. Clair County is part of the Greater St. Louis metropolitan area, along with Ferguson, Missouri, which has been in the public spotlight most recently due to a Department of Justice report of its investigation of the Ferguson Police Department.

Police conduct issues may be swaying jurors in St. Clair County

The conduct of police officers has been coming up in criminal trials for a long time, but after high-profile cases such as the shooting of a black youth by a white officer in Ferguson, Mo., or last week’s in South Carolina where an officer shot a man in the back, there can be a tendency by the public to question officers’ testimony, said Southern Illinois University Carbondale law professor Bill Schroeder.

“That’s the climate that’s out there right now,” Schroeder said.

Cosby was accused of the shooting death of Antwan Thomas outside an East St. Louis lounge. A St. Clair County jury acquitted Cosby in a trial after East St. Louis Detective Orlando Ward, the lead investigator in the case, was charged with federal drug-trafficking.

“I have been a lawyer for eight years, and the difference now is that jurors no longer give police officers the benefit of the doubt,” Cueto said. “I think jurors focus on the case they are deciding.”

Public defender and longtime defense lawyer John O’Gara agreed. He thought it may have begun with the O.J. Simpson murder case. During the televised trial, jurors sent out questions to Judge Lance Ito, asking and challenging evidence and witnesses. Those jurors were empowered and engaged, O’Gara said, leaving potential jurors around the country to expect the same.

“Jurors we are getting now are millennials. They tend to question things more, not take things at face value, not take the word of a police officer over anyone else,” O’Gara said.

Jurors should always keep in mind that the value they place on any testimony before them is entirely up to them. We know for a fact that many crime labs have perverse incentives to convict and that police misconduct is a common occurrence. Despite the appearance of authority, jurors are not obligated to give police officers’ or any other government officials’ testimony any special consideration or weight simply because it came from someone with a badge, a uniform, or a government title.

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