Jan 27

final-jur-e headline

Prosecutor’s Argument to Jury — “Beyond a Reasonable Is Not Beyond All Doubt” = Legal Error (But Harmless)

During closing arguments in United States v. Alt, the prosecutor told the jury “[when] considering the evidence and whether it fits these three elements, keep in mind the government's burden; it is beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not beyond all doubt. It is not beyond any shadow of a doubt.” A panel of the 7th federal circuit court found the argument to be illegal but harmless. In doing so, the court stated, “Many times in the past, we have been explicit about the inappropriateness of defining ‘reasonable doubt.’ United States v. Alex Janows & Co., 2 F.3d 716, 722 (7th Cir. 1993). We have been so clear, in fact, that in Alex Janows, we found it ‘remarkable’ and improper for the prosecutor to tell the jury that ‘beyond a reasonable doubt means just that. It does not mean proof to a certainty or proof beyond all doubt.’ The government's comments here were substantially the same as those in Alex Janows. [W]e [again] admonish counsel, do not define ‘reasonable doubt’ to a jury. Without more, however, we will not reverse because the error is harmless.”

Election Influencer’s Tweet Presents a Question for the Jury—Was It Satire or Election Interference?

We learn from the National Law Journal ($$) that U.S. district judge Nicholas Garaufis of the Eastern District of New York denied a motion to dismiss the indictment charging social media influencer Douglass Mackey with election interference, ruling that the question of whether Mackey's tweets were satire is best left to a jury.

Jury Quizzes Trial Judge—How Would You Respond?

According to the Associated Press, a jury in a New York mass homicide trial this week sent a note to federal judge Vernon S. Broderick asking:

  • Are the defense lawyers contending the defendant did commit crimes but was charged under the wrong criminal statute?
  • If the jury acquits, would the defendant be retried with different charges?

How should the judge decide? With specificity? Or the standard “keep on deliberating”? The Jur-E Bulletin will try to report the judge’s decision whenever rendered.

Convicted Attorney Claims Missing Jury Instruction Is Reversible Error—Appellate Judge Raises Right to Counsel Concerns

Attorney Kenneth Ravenell was convicted of conspiracy-to-commit-money-laundering charges in relation to his legal work for several Baltimore drug dealers in the early aughts. From 2009 to 2014, the period of the money-laundering conspiracy for which the jury convicted Ravenell, his client sold thousands of pounds of marijuana generating millions of dollars in cash. The National Law Journal ($$) reports that, on appeal, the defendant claims it was reversible error for the trial judge not to give an instruction to the jury regarding the issue of whether an attorney could be charged for crimes a client committed outside of the relevant statute of limitations. In oral arguments last week before the 5th circuit federal court of appeals, Chief Judge Roger Gregory pushed the prosecutor to explain how attorney Ravenell could be charged based on events outside of the statute of limitations. Judge Gregory said to the government attorney, “You're taking the Sixth Amendment, one of our most precious rights, to have independent counsel—and that's why in a case like this you have to explain statute of limitations or safe harbor—otherwise the jury just says, ‘well he was their lawyer.’”

Studies Show the Limited Effects of Implicit Bias Jury Instructions

In “The Subtle Effects of Implicit Bias Instructions,” social science professors Mona Lynch, Taylor Kidd, and Emily Shaw assert the implicit bias instruction used by a federal district court in western Washington State has mixed effects on juror decision making. The authors conclude, among other things, the instructions don’t mitigate or exacerbate bias against black defendants, yet it does sensitize jurors to the importance of being unbiased. Trial consultant Ken Broda Bahm reviewed the article and concluded the Washington district court video doesn’t work as intended and there are no quick fixes to implicit bias.