The Chauvin jury just may do what it wants
All that remains of the trial of Derek Chauvin is the verdict. Conventional wisdom (C.W.), since about two minutes after the first cell phone videos hit the internet and the riots started, was that Derek Chauvin would be convicted of the murder of George Floyd. This C.W. seems to be buttressed by two theories. The first is that the evidence is essentially incontrovertible, so, on the merits, there should be an easy conviction. The second is entirely cynical: the jury will vote to convict, whether or not the evidence supports a conviction, simply to avoid the riots that will certainly result from a not guilty verdict. Therefore, according to the C.W., a guilty verdict is almost a moral certainty.
When the C.W. is trending in such an overwhelming direction, it’s always prudent to check the other direction. What are the chances of a not guilty verdict? As surprising as it may seem, they might not be as low as people think.
Any attorney who has tried cases before a jury, whether they are civil or criminal, will tell you that the only “certainty” about juries is their uncertainty. Any pundit or so-called “legal expert” who tells you he can predict to any level of precision what verdict a jury will return is spreading the stuff you put on the garden to fertilize the tomatoes.
For the last 26 years, I have defended civil cases, the outcome of which, frankly, mattered to no one beyond the parties involved. They received nowhere near the level of public scrutiny as this one. For the most part, the verdicts came back as expected, but not all of them. Some were very surprising, so trying to predict the Chauvin verdict is truly a fool’s errand.
The second important characteristic you learn about juries is that they often do what they want. No matter what the lawyers and even the judge may consider the crucial piece of evidence or critical issue, the jury may not see that at all, and the result is totally opposite what the “professionals” thought going into the trial.
On April 11, during the midst of the trial, there was another police shooting in Brooklyn Center that has resulted in widespread rioting and demonstrations. In addition, this weekend, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) — in a truly brazen effort at jury tampering — rode in to demand a guilty verdict and advocated more violence and riots if there is not one.
So what effect might this have on the jury? While the members have no doubt been avoiding coverage of the trial, they cannot avoid the riots in Brooklyn Center, the next town over. Some of the jurors may well have family or friends who live there. It is not unreasonable that if some of the jurors had apprehensions over whether there would be riots or unrest with a not guilty verdict, this second shooting and the resulting riots changed all that. Simply, the jurors may well conclude they are caught between a rock and a hard place — that no matter what the verdict, the response by the mob will be riots, looting, and unrest.
Could this sense of inevitable civil unrest, regardless of the outcome, stiffen the jurors’ resolve to consider a not guilty verdict if the jurors believe that the evidence demonstrates that the prosecution failed to prove the elements of the offenses beyond a reasonable doubt? Perhaps this results in a hung jury and a mistrial? All of these outcomes, including a guilty verdict, are possible. Why? Because with juries, you never know — they do what they want.
Image via Max Pixel.
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