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Going to prison for what a jury doesn’t think you did

The jury is losing importance in our society. Fewer trials go to juries, fewer people want to serve on juries, and, yesterday, the D.C. Circuit said that in some cases when juries find a person not guilty of conduct he can still go to prison for it.

Yesterday, the D.C. Circuit has reaffirmed it’s prior holdings that a person who is acquitted of conduct at trial can be sentenced based on that very same conduct.

The court’s ruling, in essence, is that if a person has four counts against him, and wins on all but one, the judge can sentence him as though he’d been found guilty on all four counts, provided the final sentence doesn’t go above the statutory maximum sentence for that one count. Click here for coverage from the Legal Times Blog.

This rule is unfortunate for two reasons. First, it’s bad for people accused of crimes and their lawyers. Second, it’s bad for people who serve on juries.

A juror who is excited about civic service wants his or her decision to matter. The juror wants to contribute, and to be respected. What this ruling says is that the system knows better than the jurors who participate in it. Even if a juror gave up weeks of his or her life for a trial, a probation officer who wasn’t even in the courtroom can argue that the jury was wrong, and a judge can ignore the jury’s decision to jack up a person’s sentence.

What does this mean for the average person accused of a crime in federal court?

If you have questions about how federal criminal charges are different than state criminal charges, please visit this page on Maryland federal criminal charges.

It means that in some cases, if you’re going to shoot the king, make sure you kill the king. A decision whether to take a plea from the government or go to trial can be a complicated one for any client and any lawyer. But the D.C. Circuit has reminded us that even if you win most of your case, indeed, even if you win an aquittal on every count but one, the judge can still act as though you were found guilty of everything for all practical purposes.

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2 responses to “Going to prison for what a jury doesn’t think you did”

  1. Carl Edman says:

    Yes, this will probably seem bizarre to most laypeople, but it is (a) slightly less bizarre than you’d think and (b) would require fundamental changes in sentencing to fix.