When Jurors Take Their Time

We ask these people-- well, no, we tell these people-- to sacrifice their careers and their families and their lives for a few weeks or months, for little or no pay, all in the name of justice, whatever that really means. We herd them from room to room inside a courthouse, nag at them not to break any of the rules, and shove at them incoherent instructions preceded by waves of queasy witnesses and ambiguous testimony. And then we expect them to be Delphic Oracles, separating out from the morass of evidence nuances of truth and wisdom.

Today I speak of the 4 men and 7 women who are determining the fate of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby at his perjury and obstruction of justice trial in federal court in Washington, D.C. But I can just as easily be speaking of the thousands of other jurors around the country who this week gave of themselves so that an imperfect system could chug along for a few more days. I would like to be annoyed with Libby's jurors for not reaching a verdict after seven days of deliberations. I would like to begrudge them the fact that they told their judge Thursday afternoon that they would like to break for the weekend early today. But I can't. Who am I, a non-juror who hasn't been held figuratively captive for the past months, to criticize how and when they want to share with the world what they think of the defendant and the government's case against him? As far as I am concerned, Libby's jurors can deliberate until the end of the Bush administration in January 2009

These poor people also have been tagged by the chattering class for asking for old-fashioned props like an easel and masking tape and Post-It notes to help them with their deliberations. Good for them. If they want an abacus and some dirt to scratch it the judge ought to give it to them, too. Who says that high-tech trials have to generate high-tech deliberations? And what's wrong with a few Post-It notes and an easel to help these people make sense of who said what to whom and when during the height-- I should say the depth-- of the Valerie Plame Wilson affair? It's not like judge is allowed by law to be particularly helpful. Have you ever yourself read jury instructions? Try it some time and then come back and rag on these poor jurors for not wrapping up their business in time for the weekend.

By Andrew Cohen |  March 2, 2007; 8:00 AM ET
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Comments

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Convict or not convict, it seems that this jury is doing exactly what it is supposed to do-carefully examine the evidence. Not all juries accept this responsibility. It's a good sign that justice will be served no matter the outcome.

Posted by: Craig Rancourt | March 2, 2007 04:46 PM

All trials are basically the same. Each side argues facts and law that justify the verdict in its favor. The more sympathy a victim or defendant has, the more likely a juror is to side with them and accept their arguments.

Every lawyer has a few paragraphs in his head that discusses reasonable doubt. I tell juries that the Court's instruction on reasonable doubt...

....."won't help you at all. The Court is going to tell you that a reasonable doubt is a doubt based on reason in a serious matter. This is a serious matter and both sides have given you reasons. Only you know what a reasonable doubt is in this particular case."

So if the jury is struggling over Reasonable Doubt, then they are divided in sentiment. This is not surprisiing in such a politically-charged case. They are patient but hanging.

Posted by: webster | March 2, 2007 05:25 PM

The irony is that if Libby is convicted, Bush will likely pardon based on "service to the country". One of Libby's last private practice clients was Mark Rich-fugitive finacier pardoned by Clinton in his last hours as president. Strange world....

Posted by: John | March 2, 2007 05:36 PM

If Libby is found guilty, I hope Bush does pardon him. There are way too many 'guilty' parties in this case for Libby to be the only fall guy.

Posted by: Carrie | March 2, 2007 09:07 PM

regardless of the outcome, it is a fact that Bush will pardon this man, in rality,
it is the President and the Vice (or is he the real President) that should be judge and convicted, either way it does not matter because their soul will be hunted by all the humans that were waisted( and that's the right word)! How these people can sleep at night, I will never know! I only know that my heart bleeds every time I know of a new dead! God bless them!

Posted by: mario | March 2, 2007 10:07 PM

The question is not whether Bush will pardon him but when? That is, before or after the November 2008 elections? If after, Libby might need to cool his heels in prison for a bit.

Posted by: USD Law Student | March 2, 2007 11:46 PM

Oh for christ sakes they have had plenty of time to make up their minds and decide and they need to get with it and not drag it out forever.

Posted by: sharon | March 5, 2007 10:01 PM

..A Verdict!

1. What a stunning development! In a deeply political town they found eleven people who agreed to convict an administration spokesperson. You would have thought some quiet, deeply felt, Republican sympathies would have prevented this. One would have thought that after so many hours of deliberation that they were hung. It just goes to show that the more experience one has with jury management, the less you can predict.

2. The case was overwhelming. Just reading the indictment shows why Libby could not testify. He would have looked like a liar detailing all that he supposedly forgot, including communications from the veep.

3. One hears criticism of the prosecution. This minion and these paltry charges in a CIA outing investigation. Well Fitzgerald can not get very far with an investigation if people lie to him and "forget."

4. Will Libby cooperate now facing one of the harshest sentencing judges extant? He can get Brownie points from the prosecution in order to reduce his sentencing options. This is unlikely: One, he has held firm so far as a good martyr; and two, the government would be loathe to use a convicted liar as a key to the vault. But he is not a young man. He might well want to recapture a few years of freedom. Believe me, this is a very serious Judge. When sentencing, he thinks in his own time zone.

5. Fortunately, this President is not up for re-election. There is no price to pay for going soft on a non-violent crime and pardoning a loyalist. After all look what Clinton did.

Posted by: webster | March 7, 2007 01:26 AM

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