By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
Injustice is possible in sexual abuse claims. It can come in the form of a wrongful conviction or a horrifically cruel prison sentence. I ask potential jurors if there is anything worse at all someone can be accused of or convicted of than child sexual abuse – and they almost always agree this is the worst.
Even worse – in defending these charges its not uncommon for mothers, fathers, spouses (and etc.) of the accused to plead with me to explain why does it seem like they’ve taken all of their loved one’s rights away… why have the police and prosecutors treated this as guilty until proven innocent?
“Because”, I explain, “they think he’s a child molester.”
Getting the jury to care enough to render a Not Guilty verdict or in some instances to give a fair punishment is my last installment on my series of sexual abuse blogs.
Getting the Jury to Take Accountability for their Verdict
The Milgram Experiment
There is a famous and notorious experiment which I think can be all too similar to a jury trial called the Milgram experiment.
The actual test subject who volunteers is told to read questions to a person over the radio who is in another room and can’t be seen. When the person answers incorrectly, the volunteer is told to administer a shock in increasing doses to that person.
A “doctor” sits with the volunteer and repeatedly assures them the other person is just fine, also volunteered, was evaluated for being able to withstand the shocks, and further they consented to the full experiment. The shocks increase to the point where the unseen person relays they are in excruciating pain and eventually tells the volunteer to stop.
The Milgram experiment’s goal is to see whether the volunteer actually does stop or if they administer the cruel shock even when the other person begs them to stop. The experiment is now considered unethical as it’s too mean to put someone in the volunteers situation.
Dr. Stanley Milgram was a professor at Yale. He concocted this experiment in the wake of the Nuremberg trials where Nazi after Nazi used the defense that they were just following orders.
In the Milgram experiment the volunteers would repeatedly want to stop administering the shock but would look back at the Doctor, the “authority figure,” who would tell the volunteer it was okay to ignore the other person’s plea for mercy. The volunteer felt okay administering the shock because they divested themselves of accountability – if the other person was being hurt it was the doctors fault and not their own, right?
How Can a Jury Be Like the Volunteers in the Milgram Experiment?
There are plenty of opportunities for a juror to blame anyone and everyone else in the process for a bad result.
A juror is a volunteer or a stranger to the legal proceedings. They are there for one week of their lives and have absolutely no connection to the parties and can go about their lives when they are done. They do not have to live with the consequences of their verdict except for perhaps their conscience.
There are 12 jurors on a panel and no single one is responsible for the actions of the other 11.
And the biggest similarity — the courtroom is jam packed with authority figures who are telling the jurors they have thoroughly vetted the case and they wouldn’t be pushing charges with such harsh consequences unless they were true.
Fast-forward fifteen years to when the juror is reading the morning paper and sees they wrongly convicted the defendant. The juror can blame everyone else for defendant’s plight. This was the fault of the police, of the prosecutor, the Judge – but not mine. Everyone else should have stopped this injustice first. I was just doing what everyone else told me was the right thing to do.
The Single Hardest Thing For Me to Accomplish
Through a trial, I can point out challenges which make jurors question the state’s case. I might even be able to persuade them my client is innocent or even that if my client is guilty – the prosecution’s punishment is far too cruel and stiff.
But my real job is to undo the Milgram effect. To get the jurors to know, accept, and understand THEY and THEY ALONE are responsible for their verdict. They are the volunteers sitting in the chair and THEY must have courage to tell the doctor sitting behind them they will not intentionally cause another person pain and walk away without human accountability.
Empowering the jury to fight an injustice means getting them not only to care about our client’s fight for justice – but to care beyond their one week in our legal system. If we can convince jurors they are not only just a stake-holder in the outcome of the case but the final and most important stake-holder, then we have a real chance.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is recognized as a Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.