Drug Policy

The Guy Was Guilty; the Cops Were Lying

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Gene Weingarten—for my money the best writer in journalism—was recently called for jury duty. He served on a case in which a D.C. man was charged with selling $10 worth of heroin to an undercover police officer. Weingarten was sure the man was guilty. He was also sure the cops were lying. In the Washington Post, Weingarten explains that, consequently, he was prepared to exercise his right to jury nullification.

As a juror, I was skeptical. As a citizen, I was angry. For one thing, I was mad about the whole case—the bewildering amount of police time and taxpayer money spent on prosecuting one guy for selling $10 worth of narcotics. But as a juror, I felt it was not my business to object to that. I would have been willing to convict a defendant despite those misgivings.

The police testimony was another matter. As witnesses, the officers had been supremely self-assured, even cocky; clearly, they'd been through this hundreds of times. As they passed the jury before and after testimony, they greeted us winningly. One of them winked at us, almost imperceptibly. Their testimony was clear, concise, professional and, in my view, dishonest.

I believe they feel themselves to be warriors fighting the good fight against bad people who have the system stacked in their favor. I believe they knew they had the right guy and were willing to cheat a little to assure a conviction.

I believe they had the right guy, too. But the willingness to cheat, I think, is a poisonous corruption of a system designed to protect the innocent at the risk of occasionally letting the guilty walk free. It's a good system, fundamental to freedom. I think a police officer willing to cheat is more dangerous than a two-bit drug peddler.

In his charge to the jury, the judge made it clear that if we found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt—which I had—it was our duty to convict. I was prepared to defy these instructions and acquit, in the interest of a greater good. There is actually a term for this: "jury nullification." I was going to nullify.

Good for him. As it turns out, Weingarten was selected as an alternate. But it appears a good number of his fellow jurors felt the same way. The jury hung, with 10 in favor of acquittal, two in favor of conviction.

D.C. jurors also appear to have engaged in nullification in a gun case early last year.

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  1. “I believe they had the right guy, too. But the willingness to cheat, I think, is a poisonous corruption of a system designed to protect the innocent at the risk of occasionally letting the guilty walk free. It’s a good system, fundamental to freedom. I think a police officer willing to cheat is more dangerous than a two-bit drug peddler.”

    That is an OUTSTANDING paragraph!

    Thanks for sharing this one Balko. Gotta read up on Weingarten.

  2. $10 worth of heroin?

    How much heroin is that? Call me clueless, I thought it was supposed to be expensive.

    1. I think $10 is about a bag…which is a decent amount I believe. And no heroin is not expensive, its cheap.

  3. Oh, I did like the story. Thank you Radley! More jurors should be like that reporter.

  4. This is very strange good news on two cases in the same article. This is not typical Monday fare from Balko. Setting us up, Radley?

    1. Probably. Perhaps relating to the NY State Partial DNA thing.

  5. So, Gene thinks that the defendant was factually guilty, but knows the cops were lying because their testimony was contradicted?

    No.

    Well, it was disproven by photographs, or video?

    No, that’s not it.

    Gene’s infallible, internal lie-detector picked up on that sure sign of deceit: smiling and winking.

    BTW, if Gene thinks the guy is factually guilty, WTF did the cops lie about?

    1. Abdul unwittlingly stumbles upon one of the reasons for the 6th Amendment.

    2. Wow, clueless much?

    3. I suggest re-RTFAing. He was very clear about how he knew the cops were lying. Quick hint: the answer is not the wink.

  6. Jeez, Abdul, if you really want to know what he thinks the cops lied about the link is right there. RTFA.

  7. As it turns out, Weingarten was selected as an alternate. But it appears a good number of his fellow jurors felt the same way. The jury hung, with 10 in favor of acquittal, two in favor of conviction.

    That’s one of the most encouraging things I’ve read in a long time.

  8. “Believing” someone is guilty is not the same thing as knowing beyond reasonable doubt.

    And hearing inconsistencies and testimony that even suggests fabrication are serious openings for reasonable doubt.

    Doesn’t really sound like a nullification case to me, it sounds like a clear case for aquittal. And apparently ten good DC citizens agree.

    I’ve talked to enough defense attorneys to have come to the conclusion that “police perjury” is the norm in drug and firearms cases and domned common in all prosecutions.

    That said, good for Weingarten for putting the public eye on this kind of thing.

  9. Radley posts good news.

    Strap on your kevlar jock straps, gentlemen. The karmic wheel will turn.

    1. I strap mine on before I even arrive at Hit & Run – gotta be prepared around here.

    2. Kevlar? Shit, go for titanium.

    3. Tungsten, kids. It costs a little more, but you’ll feel the difference.

  10. IMHO, based on Weingarten’s article, the cops lied and the guy wasn’t guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The only tangible piece of evidence the cops had was the 10 dollar bill. No drugs, no anything else on the guy they arrested. That just doesn’t cut it. You want me to believe the guy was selling drugs, you’d damn sure need to place him and the drugs together better than that.

  11. Having watched a cop sit on the witness stand and deliver his testimony as if he were reciting a well-memorized catechism, I am willing to believe ninety five per cent of police testimony is not “strictly” based on the actual specifics of the case at hand.

    Which makes it suspect, at best.

  12. I’ve experienced this sort of thing myself while observing a hearing in Philadelphia criminal court — the defendant was accused of possession of cocaine after allegedly having given it to a prostitute. The arresting officer testified that his car had been parked two cars behind the defendant’s, on a lit street at night. He claimed to have seen the defendant lean over from the driver’s side to the passenger window to give a packet of a powdery white substance to a known prostitute standing at the car window.

    It seems highly unlikely to me that the officer actually saw the packet. It’s inconceivable that he saw that it had a white powder in it until he’d seized and examined it. He knew, however, that to have probable cause for a search he had to have seen powder, and not just an object, so that’s what he testified.

    I think cops routinely frame those they believe are guilty (c.f. the OJ trial). From there it’s a small step to framing those they think are probably guilty, or guilty of _something_.

    I would certainly follow Weingarten’s lead in a case like that. But if it were a more serious crime, involving a violent criminal who I sincerely believed was guilty, but framed, I’m not sure my libertarian heart would be as pure.

  13. The last time I was called to jury duty, the prosecutor asked me if I trust the testimony of the police. I said No, and was promptly dismissed.

    1. It sucks, because juries need more libertarians on them. Should we lie to get on the jury?

      1. If called to jury duty, I will be as honest as I believe most cops are.

        1. If ordered to report for jury duty for essentially no pay, I will throw the summons in the trash. I refuse to be a slave to the government by accepting a conscription order.

          1. How often do we complain about injustice, or wrong outcomes in trials?

            If we are going to leave jury duty to the stupid people that can’t get excused, we can’t really complain about how they get it wrong.

    2. Similar story here. We were asked, “Can you apply the law strictly as written without regard to your feelings about the law?” and when I said no, I got a little lecture from the judge, and got tossed.

    3. I probably would have said “sure, I trust their testimony as much as I trust anyone’s testimony.”

      If asked to expand, I would have said “If their testimony is facially credible and consistent with other evidence, I’ll trust it.”

      If pressed, I would say “I don’t trust laundry, I trust people. The fact that they wear uniforms is irrelevant to the credibility of their testimony.”

    4. I’ve been summoned six or seven times over the years and of course never picked. Last time I told the judge and the DA that I could never convict based soley on the tesimony of a law enforcement officer–I would have to see some corroborating evidence. (Left unsaid was that if there was no evidence other than LEO testimony that meant there was no victim to complain and I am opposed to criminalizing consensual behavior.) I was promptly dismissed and thanked for my time.

      1. “Left unsaid was that if there was no evidence other than LEO testimony that meant there was no victim to complain and I am opposed to criminalizing consensual behavior.”

        I don’t think murder victims complain too much.

        1. You know, I just thought about that after I wrote the post. But in a murder case there is always some other evidence besides a cop’s testimony–e.g. a body or other remains, a witness etc.

    5. Hmmm, my buddy, who has a high ranking sheriff father and is in law school told me that the way to get out of jury duty is to say that you trust the police 100% of the time. That way, the defense attorney will automatically dismiss you.

  14. ROTFL< Lying is what cops do best. We all know that.

    Jess
    http://www.online-privacy.int.tc

  15. Had something very similar happen to me – including being an alternate. But in my case, the jury convicted the guy.

  16. There will always be a bit of unfairness in determining the honesty of cops. After all, suspects are separated and interrogated individually, but the cops have all day to edit their story down to a consistent narrative.

  17. The comments on that article are depressing. Mostly people willing to believe the cops or dismiss their lying because it puts away a dangerous drug dealer.

  18. Keep in mind, the jury’s job is to determine whether the state proved the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Not to opine on whether they think the perp is guilty.

    In that context, doubting the credibility of the state’s witnesses just about requires a not guilty verdict all by itself.

  19. Basing your opinion of this matter on one journalist’s opinion is as reckless as convicting someone based on perjured testimony. Has anyone compared the trial transcript to this reporter’s version of events?
    And, what was the racial makeup of the accused and the jury?

    1. …must reflect the ethnic makeup of the City?which I do not Fulley understand but must have something to do with the dwarf Grabpot Thundergust’s Cosmetic Factory…

    2. “”Basing your opinion of this matter on one journalist’s opinion is as reckless..”””

      Totally agree. But what about a juror’s opinion that just so happen to have a profession in journalism?

  20. I don’t have to lie to get on a jury at all. I get to set “reasonable doubt”, at whatever I think is ….. reasonable. If there is a victimless crime, I think reasonable doubt is pretty damn close to “any possible doubt whatsoever”. If it is all possible that the guy was framed, I can vote to acquit. When all you have to do to frame somebody is claim you found a bag of some magically evil substance on him, he could have been framed.

  21. It’s not just one journo, however. This is in DC where police lies are endemic. Most recently, and most publicly, they were busted for claiming that the officer who pulled a gun because his car got hit by a snowball had not done so when this had already been proven by video evidence.

  22. Weingarten’s experience makes a good case for repealing Prohibition on drugs. Legalize drugs, use the money now currently used for prosecution for drug rehab, take away the need for illegal drug dealers, provide clean needles so that people don’t have to die like dogs in the street. With drugs legal, there is no need for drug abusers to stay underground like they do now. They can then emerge and get treatment instead of being afraid of being arrested.
    Then the jails wouldn’t be filled to the brim with non-violent offenders.

    The government then can tax the $200 billion underground drug industry.

    Why don’t we do this instead of staying on the insane track we are on now?

  23. And in 1992, when those Simi Valley jurors exercised “the right of jury nullification” by acquitting the cops who beat up Rodney King, I suppose you guys were applauding that, too.

    Or do you subscribe to the doctrine of nullification for me but not for thee?

  24. after continuing to observe the very same elements in the court on daily basis, I totally agree with he jury nullification, in one instance here in the city of Whittier California whereas a Los Angeles attempted to conjure up false testimony just for a conviction, tables turned and the sheriff was charges with perjury in this case, it is dangerous when officer seek to convict on fabricated testimony, and where does it lead to, MORE LIES & MORE until one day total corruption???

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