The Hung Jury: American Exceptionalism Strikes Again

January 3rd, 2011|

Hung Juries: Judicial Flukes or Systemic Problem?The American juridical system is one of the few in the world that allows for the possibility of a hung jury. All of the "mixed" systems of Europe and South America, wherein a group of laypersons deliberates with a small group of judges, use decision rules that preclude hung juries. A supermajority might be required for a conviction (like 8 votes out of 13), but a failure to secure that many guilty votes always results in an acquittal.Even those countries that inherited the British Common Law system have largely moved away from voting procedures

Post-verdict Correction for Racial Animus in the Jury Room: Can it be done?

December 16th, 2010|

The McCowen Case in MassachusettsEarlier this month, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts unanimously rejected the appeal of Christopeher McCowen, who was convicted of murdering Christa Worthington on Cape Cod. The major grounds for McCowen's appeal was that jurors revealed, after the trial was over, that the deliberations had been peppered by racially insensitive remarks and hurt feelings over perceived racial animus.While the Federal Rules of Evidence, and most state counterparts, preclude jurors testifying about their deliberations after the fact, Massachusetts has an exception carved out for alleged racial prejudice. McCowen's appeal was allowed under this exception. Ultimately, the Supreme

The Dissenters Dilemma: Holdout jurors face hostility and threats

December 8th, 2010|

One holdout's harrowing taleJoAnn Chiakulas was a juror on the trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, charged with many counts of corruption, stemming, in part, from his alleged attempt to sell President Obama's former Senate seat for cash and political considerations. In the end, the jury hung with respect to 24 of 25 counts, finding him guilty only of lying to federal agents.Despite an apparent agreement among the jurors to simply return home after the trial, eschewing interviews with the press, Ms. Chiakulas found herself "outed" as the holdout juror almost immediately. Forewarned that her house had been surrounded

Tragedy, Hindsight Bias and the Blame Game

November 15th, 2010|

A Tragic Spray of BulletsAt a gun show in Westfield, Massachusetts, organized by a former police chief, Chistopher Bizilj (age 8) lost his life. Among the guns that two men brought to the show was a small Uzi submachine gun. They handed the gun to Bizilj, who started to fire the gun, lost control, and accidentally and fatally shot himself.Now, the event organizer and two weapons providers are on trial for involuntary manslaughter in the boy's death. Originally scheduled for trial this month, the case has been continued until December.The three defendants will certainly attempt to defend their actions as

Saving Chuck Turner from Himself: The value of witness prep focus groups

November 8th, 2010|

Chuck Turner, a longtime Boston City Counsellor, was convicted last week of taking bribes. He was arrested after the FBI conducted a sting operation, employing one of Turner's associates as an informant. Ronald Wilburn was sent into Turner's office to ask for help obtaining a liquor license. While there, Wilburn slipped Turner $1000 in cash during a handshake, all of which was caught on FBI surveillance video.There are a couple of noteworthy features of the trial. First, the video is very grainy. So, while it is clear that something changed hands, and that it was almost certainly money, there is