Saturday, August 30, 2008

Judge In Liquid Bomber Trial Says Verdict Need Not Be Unanimous

The judge running the trial of the so-called "Liquid Bombers" has told the jury that it may return a verdict without unanimous agreement.

The judge, Mr. Justice Calvert-Smith [photo], gave the jury the "majority option" on Thursday, their eleventh day of deliberation.

The jury can now convict or acquit the defendants based on an 11-1 or even a 10-2 majority.

The move by Mr. Justice Calvert-Smith was not unexpected.

Three weeks ago, I wrote:
... If I were on the jury, ... I'd be waiting for the judge to indicate that a unanimous verdict wasn't necessary, that 11-1 or 10-2 would be good enough ...
If you're comfortable with basic arithmetic and you understand how the calendar works, you might be asking yourself difficult questions, like:
Is WP clairvoyant? How could he know three weeks ago that the jury wouldn't reach a quick decision, when they've only spent eleven days deliberating?
There's no supernatural explanation. In addition to the time spent deliberating, the jurors have also enjoyed a two-week holiday.

The break may be a meager reward for having spent four months listening to lawyers, but on the other hand, how does it help the jury to focus on a decision?

The "majority option" is considered controversial in some places, where jury verdicts are taken seriously precisely because of their unanimity. It is ostensibly used to avoid mistrials in cases where one or two jury members are unconvinced.

This line of thought is based on the notion that a relatively quick and inexpensive decision is preferable to a correct one. (Any resemblance between this and the idea which brought us our current president is all too real.)

The "majority option" has been effectively used to obtain five convictions (and five life sentences) in a high-profile case which had much in common with this one:

The defendants -- a group of young Muslim men -- were accused of wanting to make HMTD bombs, although they hadn't actually made any. And their alleged plot had been infiltrated at an early stage by a government "informant", whose role has now been wiped from the pages of history.

Was the "informant" an agent-provocateur, driving the plot along and pushing it in directions it wouldn't have gone otherwise? If so, it wouldn't be the first time.

It doesn't take much imagination to see how useful the "majority option" would be in situations where the government's case is less than convincing, or less than legitimate. In such cases it might be considered necessary to sidestep one or two jurors who could see that things weren't right.

Considering that the police had a surveillance camera in the alleged plotters' "bomb-making factory", and that the prosecution obviously doesn't have solid proof of their allegations, I would be one of the jurors the "majority option" was invoked to sidestep.

And this is definitely a case in which things aren't right. The plot as alleged was six kinds of impossible, and that can only mean one thing.


thirty-sixth in a series

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