Jury nullification: Pat Pogan trial analysis

While reading responses to Patric Pogan’s jury trial yesterday afternoon, I learned a new phrase: jury nullification.

In the United States, juries have the power to acquit the defendants of alleged crimes even when the accused is technically guilty of breaking the law. According to Wikipedia, jury nullification occurs when a jury in a criminal case acquits a defendant despite the weight of evidence against him or her. Jury nullification occurs when the members of the dislike a law.

William Penn was arrested in 1670 for “preaching Quakerism to an unlawful assembly.” Penn freely admitted his guilt, but the jury refused to find Penn guilty. In the United States, juries refused to convict people who violated the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 because the jurors felt the laws were unjust. Conversely, all white juries sometimes acquitted defendants accused of murdering blacks.

Patrick Pogan’s attorney was pretty smart to advise his client to request a jury trial. Many people dislike cyclists, but generally are supportive of law enforcement. One national survey show that 85% of the general public support the efforts of local law enforcement. I couldn’t find any surveys of the general public’s attitude on cyclists on the road, but if comments in various forums and news sites are any indication, a lot of people really don’t like us much.

A jury of his peers sees a cop just doing his job, and they might even get a vicarious thrill out of seeing the cyclist get his just reward. The low life biker is certainly guilty of something, anyway — they heard testimony that Christopher Long smoked pot and even killed somebody in a traffic collision in 2001. In New York and elsewhere, it’s possible some of these jurors even imagined taking a whack at cyclists themselves.

The jurors ignore the clear evidence and vote to acquit Pogan of assault.

That’s Bad Lawyer’s theory. He writes the jury “saw with their own eyes what we see in the video–and if they are reasonably sensate they know that this was assault and batttery.” But because Long is apparently a dirtbag, the jury had no sympathy for the victim, and voted to acquit. Some on the jury, however, wanted to convict (they took three days to deliberate), so the vote to convict on the falsifying charge was a compromise, in his view.

As an aside, this public prejudice can work against us when the cyclist is the defendant in jury trials, as Reed Bates apparently discovered in Ennis, Texas, when a jury of his peers voted to convict Bates of violating a non-existent law.

What do you think?

3 Comments

  • bikesgonewild
    April 30, 2010 - 1:29 pm | Permalink

    …pogan's actions that night were clearly documented in that video & i'll bet as a rookie cop, he fell prey to a certain amount of “good natured” goading from his brothers in blue before his shift began…“hey, patty…ya gonna get yerself one a' them s.o.b. cyclist's tonite, huh ???”…pure speculation on my part but somehow that kinda locker room 'guy' banter wouldn't surprise me…
    …i'd bet officer patty pogan, he of that fine irish cop tradition, got caught up in the moment & personally i'm glad knowing that he can never again be employed by any law enforcement agency…

    …bottom line when all is said & done…assault is a misdemeanor whereas the falsification of a police report is a felony…hopefully the judge won't be overly lenient…

    …truth is, we as cyclist's have created a scofflaw image for ourselves & that coupled w/ the general apathy & discomfort most drivers feel around cyclist's means we don't get much empathy, no matter what the situation…

    …the dichotomy is that the danger we feel as cyclists on the road is not empathetically shared by those drivers who admit they don't cycle themselves because they find it to be too dangerous out there…go figure !!!…

  • Pingback: Patrick Pogan: Guilty. Sort of. » Cyclelicious

  • May 5, 2010 - 5:45 am | Permalink

    You wrote: “As an aside, this public prejudice can work against us when the cyclist is the defendant in jury trials, as Reed Bates apparently discovered in Ennis, Texas, when a jury of his peers voted to convict Bates of violating a non-existent law.”
    .
    Sadly, Reed was convicted of a very real law, the same bad law that we have in CA, and exists in 3 other states, that applies impeding traffic to all drivers, not just motor vehicle drivers, which is the case in 43 US states (2 states have no impeding traffic law).

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