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Regarding Setsuko Kamiya’s Dec. 29 article, “Mansfield Center eyes lay judge debut“: Although a U.S. jury receives instructions from the presiding trial judge, it is free to render a verdict by its members’ own conscience — even to the point of disregarding evidence. Jury verdicts must be unanimous.

A verdict of “not guilty” is not subject to review or justification and may not be questioned ever again by any government official. And the crime charged may never be charged again. This leads to the “jury nullification” phenomenon; judges and lawyers don’t like it, but the U.S. Constitution stays their hand.

For example, suppose a man is charged with murdering an individual, and this individual had been a known drug dealer and considered a blight on the community. A juror, hearing incontrovertible evidence against the suspect yet knowing of the reputation of the deceased, might conclude that the suspect actually did the deed but that the individual he killed needed to be killed. And thus the juror may vote “not guilty.”

That juror cannot be legally held to justify his vote. If the other 11 jurors similarly vote “not guilty,” the matter is settled for all time. But if the other jurors vote “guilty” and the lone juror persists in voting “not guilty,” a mistrial will be declared and a new trial will have to be convened or the charges dropped.

In the United States, we’re not particularly reluctant to put government officials in prison if they commit crimes. A number of them are serving many years in prison right now. Ironically, they too are protected by the independence of the jury!

Thank you for the excellent reporting.

michael d. lee

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