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Criminal Defense Attorney Nick Alcock on Criminal Procedure and “Reasonable Doubt”

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Posted by: Phoenix Arizona Criminal Defense Attorney Nick Alcock

This is a bizarre case. A jury decided that they hadn’t heard enough argument, so they asked the judge to allow the criminal defense attorney and prosecutor another 5 minutes to try to convince them. I have never heard of such a thing, and I certainly wouldn’t think that it was permitted. But now it is the law of the land. If a jury wants to hear more argument, they can.

Once again, I think that this case goes to one fundamental issue. If a jury can’t decide after hearing all of the evidence and closing arguments, then the verdict should be not guilty, not let’s try the case again. I think that juries in general refuse to understand the concept of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If they are asking the sides to re-argue the case, then there is doubt. Plain and simple. See a summary of the case below.

10) United States v. Della Porta
Decided 8/8/2011
No. 10-50168
Circuit Judge Silverman for the Court; Circuit Judges Tallman and Clifton

CRIMINAL PROCEDURE: A judge does not abuse his discretion or unduly influence a jury when he allows supplemental closing arguments without identifying specific issues that have deadlocked a jury.

Rosa Della Porta was charged with one count of embezzlement and theft of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union Local 26 where she worked as a bookkeeper. After three hours of deliberation, the jury requested evidence presented at trial. The judge declined the request and the jury continued deliberations. The jury then requested transcripts of testimony, and the judge declined but offered to have the testimony read in open court. The jury heard the testimony but did not yet reach a decision. Following a direct inquiry of the foreperson, the jury requested to hear five more minutes of argument. The judge granted the jury’s request, but denied a request by the state to identify a specific issue the jury would like to hear argued. After further argument, the jury found Della Porta guilty. Della Porta appealed, arguing the district court abused its discretion and coerced a guilty verdict by ordering supplemental closing arguments. Based on the totality of the circumstances, the Ninth Circuit upheld the verdict because it found no “improper coercion or abuse of discretion.” First, the judge did not issue an Allen charge prior to allowing additional arguments, nor did he pressure the jury in any way that would lead them to “surrender their conscientiously-held beliefs for the sake of securing a unanimous verdict.” Second, the judge did not allow the jury to identify specific issues on which to hear further argument, thereby preventing undue influence into jury deliberations. AFFIRMED.

[Summarized by Trevor Findley]

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