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Not quite jury duty but this story did strike a chord.

I'm someone who strongly believes, in theory anyway, in the presumption of innocence and that everyone is entitled to a strong defense. A prosecutor should have to earn a conviction. However I also feel strongly that perpetrators of some crimes, upon conviction, should face harsh punishments.

Earlier this week, we got a message from a defense attorney inquiring about our services to assist with a criminal case. There were no other details left, so we googled the attorney and found that this attorney is involved in a very high-profile criminal case defending someone accused of an extremely heinous crime. It's a Law and Order-type crime, and it happens to be in one of the category crimes that I find to be particularly egregious.

I'm torn. The part of me that believes in the right to a strong defense wants to assist, not necessarily because I support the defendant, but because the prosecutor shouldn't be a rubber stamp. The other part is wondering what happens if I help defendant get off and he hurts someone else.

We left a message with the attorney asking for more detail and haven't heard back. It may be that the attorney found someone else, decided our field won't help, or maybe just can't afford us. But if we do hear back, if we are able to assist, and if the attorney does want to retain us, I don't know how we'll respond.

I hope I have the courage to say yes. But I don't know that I do.

(throwaway account to mask my normal HN identity).




> I'm torn. The part of me that believes in the right to a strong defense wants to assist, not necessarily because I support the defendant, but because the prosecutor shouldn't be a rubber stamp. The other part is wondering what happens if I help defendant get off and he hurts someone else.

If the defendant has committed the crime, but the verdict is not guilty; then there was insufficient evidence to meet the burden of proof, and the system worked as designed. You have done your part as a defense expert witness to help the system work as designed. It may also be the case that the prosecutor does a poor job of presenting evidence, or law enforcement did a poor job of collecting or preserving evidence.

The goal of a criminal case is not to determine if a defendant is guilty or innocent or not guilty; it's to determine if the evidence shows if the defendant is guilty, beyond any reasonable doubt, and if not, to acquit the defendant of the specific charges and leave the matter closed. It's not quite the same. You don't always get one of those results though, if you have a hung jury, or other exception.

Even if the defendant is guilty, he should have a strong defense -- the system (and the state) must be kept honest.


An accusation does not make a criminal. Your dissonance flies in the face of your strong belief in a presumption of innocence.

Yours is more of a bias to believe in a presumption of innocence for certain crimes because of personal reasons.

A good attorney won't give you details of a case.


And what if you don't help, and the defendant is innocent but goes to jail for a heinous crime they did not commit? Does that possibility hold less weight with you?

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> not necessarily because I support the defendant

Suppose the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. Now that they're innocent, would you like to support them?


Does that possibility hold less weight with you?

In general no, in this specific case, yes, because the evidence is so overwhelming. Think "twenty dead bodies found buried in defendant's basement next to bloody knives with defendant's fingerprints." I know this might be an unsatisfactory response, but I really can't be more specific without pointing to the actual case and I don't want to get into specifics in case I do decide to assist.


Ah, then you needn't worry much, because when your evidence is presented the jury will be thinking instead about the twenty dead bodies buried in the basement, right?

If the evidence is overwhelming, a little defense shouldn't hurt, and if it isn't, maybe they're innocent after all.


We're so conditioned to be afraid of evil we can't recognize the true "evil".


Why do you assume the defendant is guilty? What if he's innocent, but your refusal to help provide a strong defense causes him to be found guilty? Why do you presume to do the judge and jury's job for them, but with no access to the facts or judicial procedure?

If prosecutors can ensure that a strong defense is impossible simply by accusing someone of an appropriately heinous crime, then the criminal justice system has failed. Please don't be complicit in that.


Why do you presume to do the judge and jury's job for them, but with no access to the facts or judicial procedure?

My other fear is that what happens when, with access to the facts or judicial procedure, I determine that the defendant actually is guilty.

Please don't be complicit in that.

We'll see.


My other fear is that what happens when, with access to the facts or judicial procedure, I determine that the defendant actually is guilty.

And when you determine that the defendant is innocent?

If you were falsely accused of the same crime, what would you think of someone who acts as you're proposing?


Your duty, it seems, would be to bring some piece of Truth to the proceedings.

If they are guilty, it may help convict them, but if they are innocent, it may help exonerate them.

Regardlessly, bring Truth to the proceedings and leave your biases and opinions (valid or not) outside.


If you get a call back, be very up front with this attitude so they can look elsewhere to retain a professional.


I really appreciate the cognitive dissonance you're experiencing related to this case. Blindly accepting presumption of innocence, which I support in the justice system, is not something people typically do. This situation seems similar to the idea of jury nullification, which the article mentioned. If you choose not to help because you disagree with potentially helping the system make the wrong choice, I would support it for the same reason we choose juries. In the existing American justice system, the primary reason for juries is to have peers not ingrained in the system making judgement calls on the evidence they have.




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