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Tag: jurors

Parker: The Supreme Court, Police Shootings and Black Lives Matter

Ross Parker was chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit for 8 years and worked as an AUSA for 28 in that office.

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

Have the frenzied media coverage of incidents involving police shootings of African Americans and the protests of Black Lives Matter activists affected the Supreme Court?  The Court has not addressed a case involving race and the criminal justice system in some time, but two such cases are scheduled for oral argument this month.

Coincidence or a legitimate attempt to weigh in on a crisis jeopardizing law enforcement lives and the faith of minority Americans in the fairness of the criminal process?

US_Supreme_Court

The Court exercises discretion in at least three ways: what cases to accept for hearing (only about 1% are heard), the timing of oral argument (these cases were set for the first month of the 2016-2017 term), and in the individual votes and opinions of the Justices). The first two seem to demonstrate a special sensitivity to this subject which is embroiling race relations in America.

However, the other related question is whether the open seat on the Court from the death of Justice Scalia will affect the Court’s ability to decide these cases and to resolve conflicts in the lower courts. A 4-4 vote will mean that the lower court decision will stand. In these two cases the lower courts both rejected the petitions of minority defendants on racial issues.

The first of the two cases is Buck v. Davis, a death penalty appeal which has bounced around the Texas state courts, the federal district court in Houston and the 5th Circuit since Buck’s sentence of death in 1996. Buck was convicted of capital murder of his ex-girlfriend and a man at her house in a jealousy-fueled shooting spree. During the penalty hearing his defense attorney, who had a notoriously bad record in capital cases, called a psychologist to testify on the subject of Buck’s likelihood of posing a danger in the future.

In Texas the jury must unanimously conclude that the defendant poses a danger of violence to warrant the verdict of death. The defense psychologist testified that the fact that he was Black made him statistically more likely to be dangerous. Ultimately, however, the psychologist was of the opinion that he was at a lower probability of being dangerous. His report, which included the race analysis, was admitted as a defense exhibit. The prosecutor reiterated this race opinion in cross-examination and the witness’s conclusion in his closing argument.

Ross Parker

Ross Parker

On the most recent appeal, the 5th Circuit concluded that, although racial appeals had long been unconstitutional in criminal trials, the defendant had not met the standard of a substantial showing of prejudice to justify a Certificate of Appeal. There had been no proof that the result would have been different without the expert’s testimony in view of the defendant’s callous actions and his lack of remorse. The defense showing on appeal was not extraordinary and the prejudice de minimis.

This particular psychologist had repeated this race-based statistical opinion in six other capital cases, and the Texas Attorney General announced in a press conference that it would not oppose re-sentencing in all of those cases. However, a new Attorney General reneged on this promise as to Buck’s case.

In addition to the race-based issue, the case illustrates the tension in capital cases between two important principles. In cases involving the death penalty errors in the trial are painstakingly reviewed and appellate opinions often reach to achieve due process. On the other hand, there is a need for finality in the resolution of criminal cases. The length of time capital defendants sit on death row today is considered by some to be a failure of finality in the system.

Read more »

FBI Found More Than 1,600 Spent Shell Casings at Oregon Wildlife Refuge

Scene at the federal wildlife refuge.

Scene at the federal wildlife refuge.

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

FBI agents found more than 1,600 spent shell casings at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge boat launch in Oregon, where protesters occupied the area for 41 days earlier this year.

The findings were shared with jurors in a video that showed seven or eight men firing assault rifles, the Oregonian reports. 

Assistant U.S Attorney Ethan Knight said the video undermines defense attorneys’ claims that the armed standoff was a peaceful demonstration.

“It’s direct evidence of force,” Knight told the judge.

The Oregonian reports:

FBI agents, photographers and forensic accountants who were part of the agency’s Evidence Response Team spent the day testifying about what they recovered from the bird sanctuary in late February after the 41-day occupation. Bundy and six co-defendants are on trial, charged with conspiring to impede federal employees from the refuge through force, intimidation or threats.

The agents described dozens of boxes of ammunition found in multiple sites, rifle cases left in the refuge archaeologist’s office, a trench filled with trash bags near the RV park on the eastern edge of refuge headquarters, three cut padlocks located in a dumpster outside the bunkhouse, a “Tyranny” sign propped up at the refuge’s front gate and an improvised bunker dug out by the back gate of the refuge.

They also revealed handwritten notes they seized from the bunkhouse and elsewhere that described tactical training, formations and drills, guard duty schedules and individual assignments such as “rifleman” or “medic.”

FBI Special Agent Christopher Chew said he was the senior team leader, managing the search and seizure of evidence from Feb. 12 through Feb. 23. He said there were FBI evidence teams that helped Portland agents from Seattle, Salt Lake City, Denver and San Antonio.

Disgust, Fear Rattled Jurors Tasked with Deciding Fate of mobster ‘Whitey’ Bulger

Updated Bulger photo/wbur

Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

For the four women and eight men tasked with deciding whether notorious mobster James “Whitey” Bulger was guilty of murder and racketeering, life was not easy.

Sometimes the jurors shouted at each other; other times they felt disgusted with the sleazy witnesses.

The trial was so stressful that some even popped aspirin to soothe headaches, the Boston Globe reports after interviewing some jury members.

Juror Janet Uhlar, 56, of Eastham, said she was disgusted to hear that some witnesses were never jailed despite committing murders.

“It really broke my heart to see that happening, to see what our founding fathers laid down their lives for, the judicial system, corrupted like that,” Uhlar told the Globe.

The jury convicted Bulger on 31 of 32 counts Monday. He has not yet been sentenced.

Is the Chicago Judge Going too Far by Withholding Jurors Names After the Verdict?

Allan Lengel

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Imagine taxpayers spending millions of dollars collectively trying an Illinois governor, and in the end, the case all but collapses. The jurors only convict on one of 24 counts . They end up deadlocked on the rest.

Imagine that. Yes,it’s not too hard, considering it happened in the first trial of ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Isn’t it fair to assume people want to know why the case collapsed? Can we go as far as to say they have a right to know? I’d say Yes.

So I speak with some mixed feelings when I read that the U.S. District Judge James Zagel in Chicago on Tuesday ruled that he won’t release the names of the jurors until 9 a.m., the day after the verdict in the retrial of Blagojevich, which begins April 20.

The judge wants to  protect the jurors. Fair.

Zagel raises some good points: He says the press after the first trial hounded the jurors to find out what they were thinking. They knocked on doors. A TV helicopter reportedly flew up above a home where one jury was staying, the Associated Press reported. The judge has said the press was  obnoxious, that reporters went too far.

I’m for some balance. Jurors have rights.  But so does the public — the right to know. At minimum, the judge — and in other high profile cases as well — should strongly suggest — and not just throw it out as an option — that at least one of the jurors should brief the press after the verdict. Judges have a way of being persuasive, particularly after they bond with jurors during a trial. They can make it happen. And maybe that way, reporters wouldn’t have to knock on doors.

We have a right to know: What the prosecution, what the defense  did right, what they did wrong. Was it taxpayers’ money well spent? Did justice — regardless of the verdict — prevail?

There should be dignity in these proceedings. No question. But citizens — the lion’s share who don’t have time to attend these trials  — have the right to know what’s going on in the courts.

And while I’m at it, frankly, it’s time to bring television cameras into federal court to let citizens — some who have never stepped foot in a federal court — see what’s going on.  Worse yet, some federal courts, like in  Alexandria, Va., do everything to make it difficult for the press to do its job. The court there doesn’t allow reporters to carry cell phones (this is the 21st Century) and laptops (granted they shouldn’t be used in the courtrooms).

I have to commend federal courthouses like the one in Washington, which try to accommodate the press. Reporters can carry cell phones and bring a laptop into the courthouse.  And during some trials, like the one in D.C. involving Sen. Ted Stevens, the court set up an overflow room with TV monitors where reporters used laptops to report to the public what was going on. Other courthouses should follow suit.

Federal court is a dignified place.  But let’s strike a balance. Let’s not lose sight of the fact the people have a right to know what’s going on!

Judge in Blago Case May Get Jurors No-Trespassing Signs for Homes

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Is a federal judge going too far by restraining the media or just being considerate?

The Chicago Tribune reports that U.S. District Judge James Zagel  in Chicago said Thursday he may have the U.S. Marshals Service offer no-trespassing signs to jurors to put up at their homes following the verdict in the retrial of ex-Ill Gov. Rod Blagojevich to keep reporters away.

“We have clear evidence that some members of the media will disregard the ordinary rights of citizens … to get the story,” Zagel said, according to the Tribune.

The judge made the remark at a hearing in which media outlets argued against proposed restrictions to keep the media away from jurors, the Tribune reported. The judge said he was bothered by the media hounding jurors after the first trial in which Blagojevich was convicted on 1 of 24 counts. The jury deadlocked on the other counts.

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, called the idea distressing because of the message it would send to jurors, the Tribune reported. She said the post-verdict interviews provide the public a better understanding of the process.

“Passing out signs is signaling to them the media is going to make your life miserable,” Dalglish said of Zagel’s comments, ” according to the Tribune. “I don’t think that should be his role.”

Dalglish also noted the importance of post-verdict media interviews of jurors, saying they provide important understanding to the public and the legal system about how a case was handled.

The trial is set for April 20.

Chicago Jurors Still Going at it in Ex-Gov. Blagojevich Case

Ex-Gov on NBC's Celebrity Apprentice

Ex-Gov on NBC's Celebrity Apprentice

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Can you say Day 11?

Well, Wednesday marks the 11th day jurors will deliberate in the federal public corruption case against the over-chatty ex-Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich in downtown Chicago.

The Associated Press reports that U.S. District Judge James Zagel told attorneys on Tuesday that he’s heard nothing from the jurors as of late.

The last note jurors sent to the judge was July 30. If we could only stick a camera in the jury room we’d have a pretty good reality TV show.

Surprise: Ex-Gov. Blago May Not Testify After All in Fed Trial

Ex-Gov Blagojevich

Ex-Gov Blagojevich

UPDATE: Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich did not testify in court this morning, as his defense team rested without calling a witness. Closing arguments are scheduled to take place at 9:30 a.m. Monday.

“It is my decision, judge,” Blagojevich said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “I made the decision freely.” Before the trial, the ex-governor maintained he would testify on his own behalf, a claim he reiterated as recently as Monday.

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The lawyers for Rod Blagojevich may ask the ex-Illinois governor to do what he’s least good at: Keeping his big yap shut.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that defense attorneys told U.S. District Judge James Zagel Tuesday afternoon that they planned to rest their case without presenting a witness, including Blagojevich, who had been expected to take the stand.

The paper reported that the judge, in a private conference, told lawyers to think about it overnight.

The Sun-Times reported that the father and son defense lawyer team — Sam Adam Sr. and Sam Adam Jr. — said they disagree over whether the ex-gov should testify.

The father thought he shouldn’t because the government failed to prove its case, the paper reported. The son said he should since he promised jurors in his opening statement that Blagojevich would testify.

To read more click here.

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

Jurors in Gotti Case Said Evidence Was Weak and Govt. Should Not Go For 5th Trial

John Gotti Jr./youtube

John Gotti Jr./youtube

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

One juror in the John “Junior” Gotti racketeering trial put it succinctly on Tuesday after the jury was hopelessly deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial.

“The evidence was just not there to prosecute the guy,” said one of the jurors, who remained anonymous, according to the New York Times.

A group of jurors also said the government should not try to prosecute Gotti again.

The government said Tuesday that it had not yet decided whether to go for a fifth trial. This was Gotti’s fourth. The other three, just like this one, ended in mistrials after jurors failed to reach a unanimous decision.

Four jurors met with reporters Tuesday after the mistrial was declared and talked about the flaws in the government’s case.

The four jurors said they seemed to buy  Gotti’s defense that he had withdrawn from the mob long ago, according to the New York Times.

“The jurors said that of the 12 people on the panel, 6 did not believe that Mr. Gotti quit the mob, 5 did believe him and one remained undecided,” the Times reported.

The group also said they did believe John Alite, the government’s key witness, who is a “confessed hit man and a former member of Mr. Gotti’s crew,” the Times reported.

The jurors  said the government should quit trying to put Gotti behind bars.

“They should stop this now — it’s ridiculous,” said one of the jurors, a middle-aged man, according to the Times. Another juror, a woman, said of the prosecution: “It’s abusive. It’s almost become a mockery.”

To read more click here.