Should jurors be concerned over the possible sentence?

It is not uncommon for the jury to have questions for the judge during deliberations.  One very common question is what will happen if the defendant is found guilty on these charges.  One lawyer even told me that the jury asked the question that if they find the defendant guilty, can the judge not send the defendant to jail.  The job of the jury is to weigh the evidence and not to determine the sentence a person should receive. 

So once the verdict comes back, the job of the jury is pretty much over.  Most judges will ask the court officer to escort the jury out before sentencing begins.  For the most part, judges don’t mind the jury being in the room during sentencing.  However, most judges will ask the court officer to escort the jury out prior to sentencing because most jurors want to leave.  Some judges will let the jurors know that they can come back into the court room and sit in the audience if they are curious about what will happen to the defendant.  

Whatever happens or whatever can potentially happen to a defendant isn’t something that juries should be concerned over during the trial.  During the trial, the judge and attorneys take tremendous care to avoid bringing up information regarding potential penalties.  Potential consequences to the defendant are irrelevant information in a criminal trial and could prejudice the defendant or even the prosecution. 

Instead, the jury should focus on the evidence at trial and make a determination on whether the prosecution has met its burden.  So, to answer the question posed in the title, the answer is no.  In any criminal case, the jury usually has enough evidence to stay occupied.  The last thing the jury should concern themselves with is the possible sentences to the charges.
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Jury Duty and Courts


Bully Beware

Even before the criminal bully statute was enacted, one DA office charged a bunch of teens for bully.  The alleged facts that surround the case are tragic and it ended with several teens being charged.  This case itself is quite interesting in the respect that it is the first time that teens are charged for this type of crime. 

 In the past and currently, there are intense debates regarding responsibility and ways to stop bullying.  Now, for the first time, teens are criminally charged for the bullying actions they committed on another individual.  This case is also interesting because it occurred prior to the new bullying law being enacted.  For the most part, it is unconstitutional to prosecute an individual based on a law that wasn’t in effect at the time of the offense.  As a result, the teens charged cannot be charged under the new bullying statute. 

There are still a lot of different types of charges one can be in violation of by bullying another individual.  One example is a person could be violation of the criminal harassment statute.  The harassment statute is not specific for bullying situations, but the elements of the crime usually fit.  In order to prove harassment, the state needs to show that the conduct happened more than once.  Bullying usually happens over a period of time and that usually isn’t much of an obstacle for the state. 

It will be very interesting to see what the defendants end up receiving as a punishment in this case.  This is unchartered territory and this case can be an example for others to take up similar prosecutions.  It is will also be interesting to see if these types of prosecutions will end the type of behavior that results in irreversible harm to victims.  Whatever the result of this case, hopefully the prosecutions of them will end the type of victimizing behavior instead of continuing to hinder school children. 

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For more information:
Fox News on teen bullying

 Boston Globe on teen charged for bullying

 NY times on 6 charged for bullying

 MA Anti-bullying bill

 MA senate anti-bullying bill

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This is no CSI

Crime scene investigation has gained incredible popularity in the hearts of people.  It is difficult to turn on the television without seeing at least one show that involves crime scene investigations.  Unfortunately, life hasn’t exactly caught up to the shows just yet. 

 Crime scene shows are very popular because they are very entertaining.  However, the shows are very different than real life practice.  On the show, the crime scene personnel can solve a crime in 60 minutes with the inclusion of commercials.  Finger prints, DNA tests, and other forensic analysis takes seconds to do.  An entire team of people juggle friendship, relationships and work and still find a way to catch the criminal.  The facilities and equipment are top of the line and look like they have never been used before. 

 The shows are entertaining, but are far from how most crime labs operate.  There are certain crime labs that have great equipment and very new facilities, but not all crime labs are in such great shape.  It all starts with the funding.  The crime labs usually aren’t that new.  The crime scene investigators aren’t that well paid and are often overworked.  Because of the amount of cases that need scientific analysis, this usually leads to significant delay in getting results back.  Drug certifications, ballistic reports, finger print and DNA analysis can take several months before the reports are done. 

The lack of funding and amount of work that needs to be done often leads to mistakes. Unlike the shows, real world investigators have to juggle many tasks at one time.  Therefore, the next time you watch a crime scene show, enjoy yourself, but please be mindful that it is just television. 

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MA Crime labs

 DNA resources in United States

 Former Crime Lab Administrator with Troubling Story

 Boston Globe Story about DNA crime lab still behind in testing

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The deception of conviction rates

As humans we love to try to make sense of things that aren’t easily definable.  In the world of prosecution, conviction rates are a statistic that a lot of people like to point to as a measure success.  Essentially, the conviction rate is the percentage of cases that are won.  Unfortunately, such a simple number fares poorly in giving an accurate picture of the situation. 

 Most people love to bring up conviction rates because it is a simple metric that most people find easily understandable.  Most people like to point to the higher conviction rates and believe that those offices are doing a better job prosecuting the crimes. 

 However, the conviction rate is deceiving for a lot of reasons.  As much as we would like to be able to quantify the legal process, it is much more of an art form than a scientific process.  In order to garner a higher conviction rate, district attorney offices may only try the cases they know are absolute winners.  Now that doesn’t mean that the DA will definitely win those cases, but those are usually the cases that the DA has the most evidence. 

 If a district attorney’s office is only trying cases that it qualifies are absolute winners, this can lead to several issues.  For one, an office may be giving very lenient plea bargains on cases that may have strong evidence, but aren’t absolute winners.  Second, the DA may try to convincing the alleged victims that certain cases are weaker than they actually are in order to plead the case out.   

Finally, in order for justice to take place the people involved in the system need to make the responsible decisions.  The conviction rate doesn’t tell us if the right thing happened in a case.  Conversely, the conviction rate can actually hinder  the wheels of justice.  In the end, we don’t want our district attorneys to be motivated by any other metric other than doing what is right.   There are a lot of factors that go into determining the outcome of a case.  Conviction rates may have their place, but they are fare poorly in showing the true picture.  

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Arraignment: What is it and What Happens during it?

The arraignment is usually the first court date that people are before the court to face their charges. The arraignment is the day in which people know officially the charges that are before them. In Massachusetts, if people are being charged in court it will be by way of a criminal complaint. A complaint is an official court document that states the charges against the person.

There are two ways in which a person is brought to an arraignment. A person can be brought in custody or be summoned to court. In custody, just means that the person is brought to court in handcuffs. Conversely, when a person is summoned to court they are sent a piece of paper stating when and where he or she needs to show up at court. If a summoned person fails to show up voluntarily before the court, a warrant could be issued and that person could end up being brought in handcuffs.

At the arraignment, there are usually a lot of other cases scheduled so it can be awhile before a person’s case is called. When the case is finally called, the court will usually read the charges against the person and enter a not guilty plea. The court will then address bail and terms of release. Finally, the court will ask if the person wants to represent themselves or want an attorney to represent them.

For the most part, unless there are some issues, the arraignment happens pretty quickly. A person can try to resolve a simple case during the arraignment, but more complicated matters will usually be put on for another court date. At the arraignment, try to be patient while waiting for your case, be respectful to the judge and court personnel and try to get as much paperwork from the court and district attorney as possible.

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