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Sunday, January 6, 2008

Responding to "Dixie" Readers

Thanks to the folks at Daily Dixie for linking to our original post about U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller's memorandum opinion, outlining his reasons for denying release pending appeal in the Don Siegelman case.

The post generated a fair number of comments from Dixie readers, and I wanted to respond to a point that was raised several times. In fact, I've seen this point raised a number of places, regarding a number of criminal trials--and it has grown into the kind of myth that needs to be debunked.

The argument goes something like this: If a jury convicted someone of an offense, then the conviction must be correct and the trial must have been fair under the law.

In fact, let's just examine the way a Daily Dixie reader phrased it:

"I'm still waiting for one of them (Siegelman supporters) to tell us about how (Karl) Rove manipulated the jury. Oh, hold on. They never mention the jury. It's better to make it sound like some judge convicted Don (Siegelman) on his own. It doesn't sound so good to admit that Don was convicted on multiple charges by an uncorrupted jury of his peers."

If you ever have been a party in a jury trial--and I, unfortunately, have been (in a civil matter)--you know how the judge controls things, even though a "jury of your peers" supposedly makes the final decision.

In fact, we have done a number of posts showing how U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate unlawfully manipulated the facts and the law in the Paul Minor case in Mississippi. Our most recent post regarding Wingate can be found here.

Wingate used two critical tools at the judge's disposal to ensure the desired result in the Minor case: He made unlawful rulings regarding expert witnesses, rulings that essentially prevented the defendants from putting on a defense. And he gave unlawful jury instructions on the two key charges--bribery and honest-services mail fraud (the same two key charges that were present in the Siegelman case).

As I noted in my most recent post on Wingate, he not only did not get the law right in his jury instructions, he did not even get the right kind of law right. He actually based the jury instruction in a federal bribery case on Mississippi state law.

Many of you might have heard a variation of this quote about the limitations of computers: You put junk in, you get junk out.

Juries have the same limitations: If the judge puts junk rulings and junk instructions in, you are likely to get junk for a jury verdict. And it's not just "junk" we are talking about. We are talking about an "unlawful" verdict, one that can send innocent people to prison.

That unquestionably happened in the Minor case. And the evidence strongly suggests it happened in the Siegelman case, too. It's hard to say for sure in the Siegelman matter because no one has access to a trial transcript and probably won't for at least another two months.

The Daily Dixie reader's notion of a pure, unadulterated, and "uncorrupted" jury is not always a reality. That does not mean the jurors themselves are corrupt--although I have little doubt that has happened in some cases. But it certainly means that jurors can be unwittingly corrupted by the judge.

Jurors are lay people assigned an extremely important task. But as regular folks, they have little or no knowledge of the law that is relevant to a particular case. In that sense, any lay person serving on a jury (me included) is kind of like a computer--we're just a dumb box that can only output good information if someone inputs good data.

That someone who is supposed to input good data is a judge. And in the Age of Rove, we are increasingly seeing evidence that certain Republican judges, in both federal and state courts, intentionally input bad data in hopes of getting a politically motivated and lawfully flawed result.

In fact, I have a follow up to my original post about Fuller's memorandum opinion. This post shows the extremely shaky legal footing upon which Siegelman and codefendant Richard Scrushy are being kept in prison pending their appeals.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

“BUSH HAS TURN THE WHITE HOUSE INTO A DEN OF THIEVES”
President Bush, Vice President Cheney and their executioner Lieutenant Rove have disregarded the values so cherished by the Republican Party. Their ideology have been to channel millions of dollars to those party members who have pledged total absolute loyalty to the Bush administration. This includes creating/channeling campaign funds for their elections, making appointments of the undeserving and/or unqualified boot lickers to high Federal offices and awarding large military/government contracts to thousands of companies that are owned directly or indirectly by his supporters. Many of these contracting companies are sham organizations and/or have no accountability.

We in the “South Eastern States” have surely suffered the most from the presidency of Bush. We are facing a very serious dilemma; we have a new strain of government corruption that is immune to the antibodies of the justice system as defined by the constitution which incudes: (a) Election fraud, (b) political favors for illegal campaign contributions (large oil companies, Tobacco Companies, Gambling Casinos, etc.), ( c) corrupt Bush appointed U.S Attorneys that spend millions of dollars profiling high ranking Democrats so that their offices can be freed up for a Bush operative and (d) Bush appointed U.S. Judges that removes the threat of a political comeback by giving maximum sentences with appeal denials and highly restricted correspondence.

The Gulf Coast Sur-Realist said...

I can comment on how Rove or some Administration representative manipulated the jury -- it was done directly through the judge! People who want an appointment (let's say to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals) know how to follow instructions from their superiors, and they can manipulate their own sphere. For example, Wingate posted the indictments day after day, psychologically grinding the idea of guilt into the jury's mind. The Defense had no defense against that tactic. Certainly they were not allowed to put on their expert witnesses. Aside from the aspects mentioned by the Legal Schnauzer, the judge read the incredibly complex jury instructions aloud for 2 1/2 days. After the first 5 minutes, everybody in the courtroom was endeavoring to have an out-of-body experience to get away from his droning voice because, as all Americans know, the jury takes a copy of the instructions with them. Nay, not so with Judge Rat Vomit. Even Oliver Diaz, a Mississippi Supreme Court Justice, who was sitting near me, was flabbergasted that he sent the jury out without the instructions. He gave them a task equivalent to emptying the Gulf of Mexico with a slotted spoon. It would have been a joke except that the lives of three men lay in the balance of the judges' machinations. So . . . that's how an outsider influences the jury. He gives instructions to the judge and lets the judge fiture out how to do it.

onthisrock said...

You hit the nail on the head with your explanation of what happened in the Siegelman case. I saw it with my own eyes. Judge Fuller continuously used his discretion and power as the judge to turn that jury towards a conviction. It was such a shock to see. It seemed to me as if he was in colusion with the prosecutors. I am not ready to say that they absolutely had a colusion, but they sure seemed to be on the same team. What a sad time we are in in this country!!!

wayne said...

Considering most jurors are sheep, jury instructions are IMO the most important thing in a trial and I spend hours working on mine. The bottom line is the jury does as it is told by the judge via instructions.