Monday, October 26, 2015

Chicago Juries Using Jury Nullification for Gun Cases?

Is jury nullification being used in Chicago gun cases?  In strict parlance, jury nullification refers to the right of jurors to judge both the facts and the law.  If a juror believes that justice will not be served by following the law, they always have the right to vote not guilty.

 It has always been the right of American jurors to do so, but about 1900, judges stopped telling jurors that they had that right, and gradually that decision morphed into an assumption by judges that it was wrong for jurors to assert their rights.  In spite of the antipathy of the court system to juror's rights to nullify bad law, they still have the right to do so.  

In Chicago, the police are having a harder time getting convictions on gun possession cases.  From

But even though they’re winning seven of every 10 gun cases, Cook County prosecutors acknowledge they’re having a tougher time getting convictions.
In part, that’s because of the public’s concern over police tactics in the wake of high-profile shootings of African-Americans by police officers around the country, according to both prosecutors and defense attorneys. They say that’s caused growing skepticism among jurors about the credibility of police officers.

“It is probably more difficult to prove these gun possession cases than it has been in the past,” said Fabio Valentini, chief of the criminal prosecutions bureau for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. “I think it makes sense that the events of the last couple of years have affected the way that jurors look at police narratives.”
Strictly speaking, that is not jury nullification.  That is just jurors being diligent at their job.   If the police account seems unreasonable, jurors should be cautious about convicting.  

Numbers from the article are interesting.  The article says that police collected about 7,000 illegal guns in 2014, and about 5,500 in the first nine months of 2015.  In 2013, Chicago seized 6,800 guns.  That is a total of 19,300 guns for 2013, 2014 and the first nine months of 20 15.   In the same period, there were 5,700 illegal gun possession cases decided in the Cook County court system in the same period, about 3.4 guns per case.  

I suspect that quite a few of the guns collected do not come from criminal activity, but simply from someone inheriting a gun that they have no interest in, and which they have difficulty legally disposing of.  There are no gun stores in Chicago proper, so a person unfamiliar with guns could be uncertain about how to dispose of a firearm.  Turning it in to police might seem the safest option.

4,100 of the 5,700 cases ended in convictions, the vast majority from plea bargains.  In the other 1,600 cases, the defendants were not convicted.  In about 600 cases, the prosecutor dropped the charges.  It is not clear how many of the remaining 1,000 cases were cleared by a judge, and how many ended in jury trials. 

As part of the passage of the shall issue law in Illinois in 2013, Chicago dropped its requirement for registration of handguns in the City.  People still must have a Firearms Owners Identification Card to merely possess, let alone carry, a firearm. 

We are not seeing a wholesale application of jury nullification in Chicago, but skeptical jurors are making sure that the police follow the rules more carefully.

 ©2015 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
Link to Gun Watch

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Contrary to what Bill Orielly said on National TV, and what some might take from this piece, a FOID card does not empowered a holder of said card to carry a firearm. Thanks to the NRA, you have to pay for a shot at begging the state for e permission slip ID in addition to the FOID card.

a FOID card is itself just a person registration - a person inclined to handle a firearm or even a single round of ammunition.

I submit that many cases are not being pursued in the first place because the law is now so jacked up here (again, thanks NRA) after the exact language the 7th struck down was placed exactly back into the code along with a EXEMPTION called a "license". Foid remained untouched as it was not challenged at the time. (Keep in mind, the NRA lobbyist has actually written part of the FOID law.....)ahem.

To the extent that juries are declining to convict, I will submit this angle. Most times, juries actually do look at the law as written when deciding to convict. Anyone attempting to read the convoluted idiocy called illinois gun law will shake their heads and be inclined to tell prosecutors to take a flying leap. Only the most obvious criminals will be convicted under these circumstances - with other factors playing a role.

As for guns turned in due to inheritance - good point. Illinois is not a must-probate state. If there are no arguments, there is no probating an estate. At most, a filing with the clerk suffices. Absent real property, there is almost no use for probate unless debtors seek relief. For most of the poorer people, no probate happens and no filing ever takes place. This because there is no real estate to being with. As for possessions, well, when a gun is inherited, it is a TRAP. A person cannot sell it, not without waiting years and years, lest they violate FOID records act. And what happens when a person inheriting a firearm has no FOID? In that case, they cannot sell it PERIOD, because it is already a "crime" for them to simply possess it. Check it - Your aging father asks you to clean out his garage, you worry he may end his life prematurely due to the cancer diagnosis. You take his shotgun home for safekeeping, absent you having a foid card - yup, you guess it - you are a CRIMINAL. Uh huh. Riiiight. He dies, you clean out the garage and find it, take it home, again without a FOID, and bang, you are a criminal.

Sell it, criminal. Keep it, criminal. Give it to a person with a FOID, criminal. Your father dying made you a criminal. See that garbage? Many feel NO CHOICE but to turn them in to police, as they see no other option possible. Gee, it is almost as if it set up to function that way, huh?

On another note, cops very well do take firearms and claim that they will "let it go" if no argument is made to retain it or get it back. I know more than one person personally that this has happened to over the years. They all said the same thing about it too - when it boils down to it, the guns taken would be replaced at less expense than to fight to get their property back. Gee, there it is is almost like it is set up to be that way, huh?

Juries may well be getting smarter, and I hope that increases, but I submit that legal potholes are affecting prosecutions more than jury intelligence increasing.