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?