Update: The decision is a must read. It comes in at a whopping 236 pages. (Yes, you read that correctly. 236 pages.) Not only is there an extensive discussion of the history of 6th Amendment jurisprudence, but there is also an extremely fascinating discussion of the Constitutionality of the federal child porn statute and whether its requirement that possession be “knowing” rather than “willful” is sufficient and whether its lack of scienter permits it to survive Constitutional scrutiny. One of the most interesting decisions I have read in a very, very long time.
After Polizzi was convicted, Weinstein polled the jurors, asking if they would have issued the same verdict had they known the mandatory minimum sentence. Many said no, stating they felt Polizzi needed treatment, not prison time.
This led Judge Weinstein to declare a mistrial.
Weinstein wrote that he “committed a constitutional error” by not telling the jury about the sentence.
That knowledge “might well have led to a hung jury or a verdict of not guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity,” the judge wrote.
In most states, like in CT, juries aren’t told of the consequences of guilty verdicts: what the mandatory-minimum sentence is, what the maximum sentence is, whether the defendant will be sentence to probation, etc.
This ruling has sparked a very interesting discussion at SL & P. S.cotus writes:
I think that Judge Jack sets the issue up in a different way. Rather than say, “Should the jury be told” I think he is asking “Should the judge set aside the verdict based on a clear statement from the jurors, on the record that they would not have convicted if they had known the consequences.” Depending on how you look at it, this is a slightly (or very) different issue.
This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about this issue and it won’t be the last. I can’t decide. My reluctance to embrace juries knowing about sentences stems from tradition, I guess. It’s just what I’ve become used to. Resistance to change or something like that.
But the benefits are obvious. With harsh sentencing and almost anything being a crime, this would be a way for the community – through the jury – to make a statement about what is and isn’t worthy of jail time and whether the sentences set out by the legislature are just and sufficient.
Sure, it reeks of jury nullification, but I don’t think nullification is illegal. It serves a purpose.
Someone at Volokh posted the following rationale:
But we’ve criminalized so much, and with such harsh sentences, that we have come pretty close to having a system in which, in many areas, prosecutors decide who goes to jail, and they make those decisions on the basis of “who is a bad guy.” So, until that changes, we ought to at least let the jury have a shot at letting some non-bad-guy defendants off lightly.
A tangent that bothers me is that a bunch of commenters are all for “full disclosure”. According to them, this would include permitting the jury to know whether the defendant has prior convictions. Seems like they’re seeking a trade-off. Something that might help a defendant for something that definitely hurt a defendant.
It’s an interesting discussion, for which I have no ready response. Thoughts from you guys?
PS: Look at the NY Post headline. Talk about tabloid…