Either Jurors Didn’t “Get” Instructions, OR…?


In case you don’t care to read the article linked above, it details some interviews with jurors from the Widmer trial (husband allegedly drown his wife).  Jurors made comments such as “evidence to us didn’t prove innocence” and the fact that the defendant didn’t testify was “bad,” seemingly indicating that the jurors disregarded instructions that the burden of proof is with the prosecution and that the defendant’s decision not to testify should not influence their verdict.  The attorneys in the case gave examples of these instructions during voir dire or opening and, I would presume, again at closing, so what happened?

There are three options:

1. The jurors had in their minds, based on prior knowledge about the case and/or the story they constructed for themselves during trial, that the defendant was guilty.  If our gut reaction tells us something, we often make up rational excuses to justify our feelings.  So, it may be that the fact that the defendant did not testify had actually nothing to do with their decisions, but that it seemed in their rational and conscious minds to be one way to justify their unconscious leanings. 

2. The attorneys did not carry the burden of proof throughout the trial.  It is very hard to get jurors to recognize that the defendant must prove nothing.  The more the attorneys could have had other witnesses remind jurors of this and armed jurors during closing for some of those comments (such as “he didn’t prove his innocence”), the better chance they would have had at preventing a verdict based on those issues.

3. The jurors simply decided to nullify the law.  In some states, this is legal, but whether legal or not, it happens all the time.  It is very hard for jurors to follow a law they see as archaic and wrong.  There are ways to guard against this, but at the end of the day, there will always be jurors who want to nullify.

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