24 May 2008

Jury nullification, part two

The flickering light of my attention fell this week upon the issue of jury nullification because of the conviction of Kirk Wright, not a very sympathetic figure.

Mr. Wright, it seems clear to meas it seemed clear to the jury, was scamming people out of millions of dollars, purporting to run a hedge fund when all he was running was a lavish lifestyle.

It is, of course, legal to solicit money to invest and then to make bad investments and lose that money. It is even legal to compensate yourself handsomely while the suckers stand for it. Caveat emptor. What isn't legal is lying about what you're doing and how well or poorly you're doing it, which is what Wright did. He sent out professional-looking account statements that persuaded his clients that their money was secure and growing.

Then came the inevitable day when some of those clients started receiving their redemptions in rubber checks....

At the two-week trial this month, Wright's attorneys were prepared to offer an "empty chair defense." What's that? In a classic empty-chair defense, Butch Cassidy is arrested. The Sundance Kid either escapes or, perhaps, has turned state's evidence and entered the witness protection program. Since the prosecution has Butch dead to rights on the merits, a lawyer might seek to play to jury sentiment by putting an empty chair at the defense table, and telling the jury dramatically, "that is where the Sundance Kid ought to be sitting."

The tactic is, precisely, a play on sentiment. Jurors often feel that it is unfair to punish Butch if they can't punish Sundance too. The way to relieve that sense of unfairness: acquit Butch!

To make the "empty chair" argument where it is clear that Butch is guilty is to appeal to the jury to nullify the law, because no law requires all possible defendants in the same crime to be brought to trial if any of them are.

Anyway, this was Kirk Wright's attorneys' plan. I don't think they planned literally to put the empty chair there, but they did want to argue to the jury that Wright had accomplices, with responsibility equal to or greater than his own for the production of the phony statements to clients that were the root of his criminal liability.

The prosecution successfully requested what's known as an order in limine, barring defense counsel from making that argument.

Assume the defense has successfully preserved a basis for appeal on this issue, and that they do argue to an appellate court that they should have been permitted to make the empty-chair/nullification appeal.

Does anybody want to play appellate-judge-for-a-day here and render a decision on that point for my benefit?


Anonymous said...

Apparently, Mr. Wright was not the only one to send out account statements. IRA custodial institutions also sent out statements which added legitimacy to the scam.

Christopher said...

Thank you, anonymous.

Shockingly, I just learned today that Mr. Wright has committed suicide.

He hanged himself in the Union City jail.

My thoughts are with his family now. I also expect an investigation of the guards, the procedures at that facility, etc.

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.