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Juror to Judge: What Was the Point?

At Sentencing Law and Policy, Doug Berman points to yesterday's examination by The Washington Times of the case of Antwuan Ball, who faces 40 years in prison over a $600 drug deal. Federal prosecutors charged the D.C. man with a massive racketeering, drug conspiracy and murder indictment, with marching orders from former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to pursue the death penalty. But jurors in November 2007 acquitted him on every count, save for a $600, half-ounce crack-cocaine deal seven years ago. That should have been good news for Ball, except for this:

Federal prosecutors are asking U.S. District Judge Richard W. Roberts to send Ball to prison for 40 years, basing their request partly on charges that were never filed or conduct the jury either rejected outright or was never asked to consider.

Known as acquitted and uncharged conduct sentencing, the practice is raising a sharp question among legal scholars: Should federal judges dole out tougher sentences based on accusations that jurors rejected or never heard during trial?

Of particular interest to blogger Berman in highlighting this story is what he describes as a "remarkable" letter from one of the jurors who acquitted Ball of most charges. In a May 16 letter to U.S. District Judge Richard W. Roberts, "Juror #6" writes:

As you remember, Judge Roberts, we spent 8 months listening to the evidence, filling countless court-supplied notebooks, making summaries of those notes, and even creating card catalogues to keep track of all the witnesses and their statements. We deliberated for over 2 months, 4 days a week, 8 hours a day. We went over everything in detail. If any of our fellow jurors had a doubt, a question, an idea, or just wanted something repeated, we all stopped and made time. Conspiracy? A crew? With the evidence the prosecutor presented, not one among us could see it. Racketeering? We dismissed that even more quickly. No conspiracy shown but more importantly, where was the money? No big bank accounts. Mostly old cars. Small apartments or living with relatives.

It seems to me a tragedy that one is asked to serve on a jury, serves, but then finds their work may not be given the credit it deserves. We, the jury, all took our charge seriously. We virtually gave up our private lives to devote our time to the cause of justice, and it is a very noble cause as you know, sir. We looked across the table at one another in respect and in sympathy. We listened, we thought, we argued, we got mad and left the room, we broke, we rested that charge until tomorrow, we went on. Eventually, through every hour-long tape of a single drug sale, hundreds of pages of transcripts, ballistics evidence, and photos, we delivered to you our verdicts.

What does it say to our contribution as jurors when we see our verdicts, in my personal view, not given their proper weight. It appears to me that these defendants are being sentenced not on the charges for which they have been found guilty but on the charges for which the District Attorney’s office would have liked them to have been found guilty. Had they shown us hard evidence, that might have been the outcome, but that was not the case. That is how you instructed your jury in this case to perform and for good reason.

It is a fascinating case and The Washington Times explores it in depth. It also provides these additional documents:

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on June 30, 2008 at 01:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

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