About . . . . . . Classes . . . . . . Books . . . . . . Vita . . . . . . . Links. . . . . . Blog

by Peter Moskos

February 4, 2011

LA Jury

My mom just got off of an L.A. jury. It happened to be the same courtroom as the OJ Simpson trial.

The accused was pulled over in South L.A. for a traffic violation and had an outstanding warrant (for what, naturally, she doesn't know). Search incident to arrest found cocaine.

Seems open and shut... but not for a city jury. The vote was nine-to-three guilty and a hung jury.

Three of the 12 simply wouldn't believe the police. My mom argued that (but didn't tell them her son was a police officer). One said the guy was being picked on because he had cornrows.

I told my mom about jury nullification. She didn't like the idea, even though she thinks that cocaine possession shouldn't be a crime.

19 comments:

Cleanville Tziabatz said...

It is difficult for a jury to tell when drugs are planted or not planted. Heck, even the policeman's partner isn't going to know whether the drugs are planted. Tie goes to the defendant, of course, because the burden of persuasion is on the prosecution.

Cocaine shouldn't be illegal because it is too easy to destroy someone's life by planting a small amount. That leads to all sorts of problems.

LibFree said...

Good point. I might not always like results of jury nullification but I believe its important. Not to mention, the police seem to have a bad reputation in the community.

Johnny Law said...

Well if you aren't going to believe them and they have such a bad rep, let's all quit and go home.

Marc said...

Given that you can be thrown off a jury for expressing any interest in nullification (god forbid jurors don't just rubber stamp convictions), I too would tell my fellow jurors that I didn't believe the police testimony.

PCM said...

I don't think you can get thrown off a jury for jury for expressing any interest in nullification. Are you sure about that?

I think you can not get seated for expressing such a concept. But once you're on a jury, I think you're on.

Marc said...

http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-2nd-circuit/1382192.html

"The power of juries to 'nullify' or exercise a power of lenity is just that -- a power;  it is by no means a right or something that a judge should encourage or permit if it is within his authority to prevent. ... Courts have consistently recognized that jurors have no right to nullify. ... A presiding judge possesses both the responsibility and the authority to dismiss a juror whose refusal or unwillingness to follow the applicable law becomes known to the judge during the course of trial."

Pretty fucked up, huh? The system is designed to get convictions regardless of the justness of the law or the innocence of the accused. The only person who looses when courts convict innocent people are innocent people and taxpayers. For those in the criminal justice system there's not really a downside.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Here are some questions for those posting on this thread:

Imagine that you sat thru the trial and believed: (i) the cocaine was there, but (ii) the traffic violation was made up. Would you vote to acquit? If so, would that be nullification?

Similar question:
Imagine that you sat thru the trial and believed: (i) the cocaine was there, but (ii) the warrant was dishonest (eg, obtained based on knowing lies or obtained after the fact). Would you vote to acquit? Would that be nullification?

I don't think nullification necessarily has anything to do with this case. Maybe each of the jurors who voted to acquit used to wear cornrows (or jerri curl if older) has been stopped 5 or 10 or 20 times for traffic violations that did not happen as a (false) pretext for a search or attempted search.

By the way, my mother was on a jury where the police found an illegal knife and a small amount of marijuana, and they still vote unanimously to acquit because they: (i) thought the knife law was bs (knife was apparently pretty small); (ii) thought the police decision to search the man was bs; and (iii) thought the prosecutors decision to bring the case was bs. I always wonder if this counts as nullification because it wasn't merely dissatisfaction with the broad scope of the knife law.

Anonymous said...

Not only did I not mean to double post, but I meant to mention that the prosecutor did not even bother charging based on the mj, but only the knife.

Anonymous said...

What does jury nullification say to that honest cop who follows the rules, makes a legal, moral and ethical arrest only to go to court and have it squashed by one individual who disagrees with the law? Does that cop ever even get out of his car again if someone is not in mortal danger? More accurately, does that cop ever again proactively seek to find a person who is breaking the law in order to put him in jail, risking his physical, mental, legal and financial well being in the process?

Let's all quit and go home indeed.

Ed

PCM said...

I agree with Ed that it is very demoralizing to go to court, at putting yourself at risk (hell, you could have just stayed in the parking lot), and testify to the truth and then not be believed. Even worse is to have some lying, violent, girlfriend beating, drug dealing felon seen as potentially more truthful.

One time, mind you it was only traffic court, but I was court and a respectable middle-aged woman accused me of many things, including pulling her over because she was black. In fact, she didn't have her headlights on. She said her headlights were on (they weren't).

The judge turned to me and asked me about the traffic stop, which was strangely similar to the court appearance.

A classic case of "he said, she said."

The judge heard both of us out, turned to her, and said "guilty." I felt a small bit of faith in the system restored.

PCM said...

That said, I think the harmful war on drugs (and massive US imprisonment) should be fought by all means necessary (peaceful mean, I hope it goes without saying). And if that includes throwing a wrench in to the judicial system, so be it.

Of course that's a bit different than saying, "I don't believe you, copper."

I'm saying something more along the line of, "I do believe you, officer. But, with all due respect, I don't think people should be convicted of violating this law that you--officer and prosecutor--are so obsessed with. And that you, who have the power of discretion, could think of no solution more creative or effective than arrest and judicial prosecution."

Cleanville Tziabatz said...

I agree with Ed that it is very demoralizing to go to court, at putting yourself at risk (hell, you could have just stayed in the parking lot), and testify to the truth and then not be believed. Even worse is to have some lying, violent, girlfriend beating, drug dealing felon seen as potentially more truthful.

Well, at least on traffic stops policemen have a choice -- get it on video. If your department doesn't supply dashcams then we live in an age of technical marvels where the policeman has a cam right in his cel phone. Use it if you don't want to risk being demoralized later.

I can tell you that what is even more demoralizing than having a court find that your testimony is not "beyond reasonable doubt" in a he-said-she-said situation is to have a police officer tell you that you committed a traffic infraction that you did not commit. I have never had that happen to me personally (I have always committed the infractions I have been accused of committing by the police), but I have twice been a passenger and seen it happen with my own eyes and ears. In neither case was my driver ticketed (although in one case he was handcuffed and brought to the station to blow his 0.000). Once you observe one of these lies, you never see policemen as automatically "beyond a reasonable doubt" again. If I had observed lies out of policemen's mouths on more than two occasions, then I would believe them, as a class, even less than I do now.

What am I trying to say here? Police lies happen. Clean up your own house. Stop being in denial about the problem. Do it with every class you teach so that they take care of these problems when they go on duty. Make them suspicious of each other. Encourage them to drop like a bag of hammers on every lie they have reason to suspect. Above all, stop blaming the jurors until you have walked a couple miles in their moccasins.

Johnny Law said...

Umm Cleanville,

I don't think any of us were born in the uniform. I have a civilian for 26 years prior to becoming a cop. If anything, I say to you to stop being so quick to condemn until you walk a mile in a pair of duty boots.

As for your camera comment, I ride a bicycle for my work. My traffic stops are not on video and it is ridiculous to expect me to be rding with my camera phone out and running in the hopes that I catch a traffic violation on film.

This whole attitude of "if it isn't on video, it's a lie" is ridiculous. It is impossible IMPOSSIBLE to catch every bit of police action on video. Basically what you are saying is that we shouldn't even try without it.

That's fine with me. It's much warmer when I am sitting inside the station waiting for a 911 call anyway. I'd rather do that than patrol and try to be proactive.

Anonymous said...

Therein lies a good chunk of the problem. Police refer the general pubic as 'civilians'. You understand that you work for us, right? Respect is a two way street, Johnny Law. We are citizens,taxpayers, and your employer and you aren't the military.

Serve and protect... or go home and we will get someone else to do it.

Cleanville Tziabatz said...

This whole attitude of "if it isn't on video, it's a lie" is ridiculous.

Let's be clear here. I didn't say that if its not on video its a lie. I said that if it is the policeman's word against the suspect's, then the policeman's word is not proof to the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard. It is 50/50 without other evidence. That doesn't mean the policeman is lying. It just means that the defendant should not be convicted.

One might argue that defendants are regularly convicted in this situation, so that must be how it is supposed to work. The answer is that: defendants are regularly convicted in this situation, because the system doesn't work properly because too many people are programmed to unreflectively trust the policeman. When a juror doesn't unreflectively trust the policeman, then Professor Moskos brings up that the defendant beats his girlfriend (didn't see that in the record), and yet fails to ask why the policeman's girlfriends weren't brought up to testify to see if the policeman beats them. Why is Professor Moskos being silly about this? I think it is pretty clear. He likes the informal rule that policemen are deemed to be telling the truth to a beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard. When someone tugs at the curtain of the Wizard's control booth on this particular issue, he gets emotional and defensive. However, it is not all bad. These flare-ups are teachable moments.

Johnny Law said...

"Therein lies a good chunk of the problem. Police refer the general pubic as 'civilians'. You understand that you work for us, right? Respect is a two way street, Johnny Law. We are citizens,taxpayers, and your employer and you aren't the military.

Serve and protect... or go home and we will get someone else to"

Did you have a point to that rant? "Civilian" is just a convenient way to identify people who aren't police officers. You shouldn't try so hard to take offense.

Yeah I get paid by public funds but I don't work for you personally. I work for society and the enforcement of laws is my job. In other words, my job is to save your butt, not to kiss it.

PCM said...

"Civilian" is just a convenient way to identify people who aren't police officers.

I second that. (But it is an unfortunate choice of words... Still, it's the best we got and what we use.)

I'm sympathetic to the idea that police should remember they're not a separate military caste. I like Peel's line that the "police are the public and the public the police."

And everybody should be treated with respect. And public employees in particular should be respectful to the public that pays their salary.

But the whole "you work for me" thing isn't true. Yes, you pay my salary. But I don't work for you anymore that a McDonald's employee "works" for you because you buy a six-piece nuggets. (I say this now not as a cop but as a professor at a public school).

Perhaps an analogy is that you, as a "civilian," are more like a small shareholder than just a customer. As a shareholder with a vested interest, you should be allowed to voice your opinion and it will be duly noted. And you also may appeal to the person who appoints my boss.

But police officers work for the police department and not individual members of the public.

PCM said...

And here's another reason cops don't consider themselves civilians: cops get fired for things "civilian" can do with constitutional protection.

http://www.copinthehood.com/2011/02/police-officers-and-free-speech.html