27 September 2007

Hung Jury

New evidence is now in confirming a widely-held hypothesis that southern California's juries will not convict a celebrity.

Yesterday, the jury that had deliberated on whether Phil Spector was guilty of the murder of Lana Clarkson informed Judge Fidler that they couldn't reach a conclusion. It appears that the final vote was 10 for "guilty," two for "not guilty."

The judge declared a mistrial. The prosecution says that it intends to try the case again. Jeopardy doesn't "attach" with a mere mistrial declaration, so double jeopardy isn't an issue. Still, most attorneys who practice criminal law will tell you that it gets harder for the prosecution on a repeat -- it's unlikely the result will be better for them.

There are exceptions, the Alger Hiss case was one of them. Just for the trip down memory lane -- Hiss stole documents from the State Department in 1938. Whittaker Chambers later produced some of them. Hiss and Chambers were part of a single CP cell in the US, funnelling such documents to the Soviets.

By 1948, when the matter became notorious in Congressional hearings, the statute of limitations had expired on any espionage charges. So when Hiss was tried, the following year, the charge was perjury -- the crime was that he had lied before the House committee when he had denied espionage.

The first trial ended in July 1949 with a hung jury. The government retried the case, and Hiss was convicted in January 1950.

One might with some plausibility attribute this difference to a change in the political atmosphere over that half-year. There may have been some sentiment among the first set of jurors that the Soviets were our ally in the recent war, so why is sharing information with them espionage exactly? If so, the sentiment was not in accord with the pertinent law. Unauthorized sharing of secrets even with the friendliest of allies is still espionage. Also, the Soviets weren't allies in 1938. Still, sentiment is always a factor in jury trials.

Perhaps over the second half of 1949 that view was fading, and the Soviets came to be seen less ambiguously as enemies in the new battle for hearts and minds, etc.

Anyway, it is a high-profile example from more than half a century ago and doesn't really affect my assessment of the prosecutions chances in a retial of Phil Spector. Slim and none.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.