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.