The Andrade verdict was reached in about two hours of deliberations. The verdict was appropriate, in my opinion. But aren’t deliberations supposed to be deliberate, that is, supposed to take a little time?
The deliberation process has puzzled me since I served on a criminal jury. Much like the Andrade trial, that trial involved a defendant who was obviously guilty of something. Unlike Andrade, though, he pled NOT GUILTY to everything. Like the Andrade jury, “my” jury knew from the moment we began that we were going to vote guilty on several counts. Unlike the Andrade jury, though, we agonized over one count. And even though we agonized, we still reached a verdict in only about two hours.
Is two hours long enough to deliberate about any important decision, let alone a person’s liberty?
The word “deliberate” means not only “consider” but also “to take care” and “be unhurried.” (I should also note that most legal definitions of first-degree murder do not use the word “deliberate” (as an adjective) but “knowingly” and “with intent” and sometimes with “forethought.” In other words, first-degree murder can be “hurried.” LexLaw’s definition uses “deliberately,” meaning “intentionally.” The length of time required to form intent “just depends,” though.)
In “my” case, I’ve been haunted by the realization that there were several issues about which we should have deliberated but did not. Why? And why did the Andrade jury, which had a much more complex case than we did, why did they conclude within two hours that the defendant not only committed first-degree murder but also a hate crime? I think I know (and it isn’t that they just wanted to go home).
Juries are instructed to deliberate but not how to deliberate.
The Andrade Verdict
I heard the judge read some of the instructions to the Andrade jury. What I heard sounded typical. The focus of jury instructions, such as those, is on the counts charged against the defendant, with the most-serious (harshest) listed first. If “lesser and included” charges are listed, they follow directly upon the charge from which they are derived.
So, in the Andrade trial, the written jury instructions listed the charges as something like this:
- First-degree murder
- Second-degree murder
- Second-degree murder with provocation
- Hate-motivated crime
- Grand theft auto
- Identity theft (credit card theft)
Each of these counts, however, is spelled out in great deal, using language drawn from the state statutes, and written in legalese with numerous subordinate clauses. As a juror, you have to be able to “diagram the sentences” to figure out what the instructions mean.
Jury instructions are very explicit about the order in which these counts are to be considered. You have to begin at the top and work your way down. So, the Andrade jurors had to start with first-degree murder before they considered the hate-motivated crime charge.
This simply isn’t logical. How can you consider first-degree murder without believing there was a motive for the crime? If the crime were motive-less it would be impossible to form knowing intent (whether or not you were sane).
The evidence was overwhelming that it was first-degree murder. Remember: the jury saw the crime-scene photos. As I understand the evidence, it was clear from the victim’s head wounds that Andrade had intentionally killed her. He struck her repeatedly and smashed her skull extraordinarily brutally. The act took more than a few seconds. He had time to stop before he killed her. He also intentionally chose the heaviest object he could find to use as a weapon. This is a classic first-degree murder.
His actions after the murder also supported the first-degree murder count. He tried to evade capture—a sign that he knew he was guilty.
Even though a jury is instructed not to consider the punishment when reaching a verdict, in the Andrade case it was apparent that it was not a capital murder case. Jurors knew it. They were not “death-penalty qualified” during voir dire. This had the effect, I believe, of making it easier for them to reach a guilty verdict on first-degree murder: in other words, it was as if the judge and prosecutor were signaling to them that it would be OK to disregard the lesser charges.
Then, by the time the Andrade jury reached the hate-crime count, they had already decided that the crime was hate-motivated. Everything about the trial had been couched in sexual terms. Even the defense had said that sexuality was at the core of the defendant’s rage. What’s more, the tapes of the defendant after his arrest were filled with ugly remarks about the victim (the defense really ought to have kept those out of evidence; it was a mistake to think they supported second-degree murder).
Deliberations Should Be Deliberate
In “my” case, much the same thing happened. There were three charges: 1) aggravated kidnapping, 2) aggravated sexual assault, and 3) attempted sexual assault. We had to consider the kidnapping charge first (and this was what we agonized over). The other two charges were a foregone conclusion, which we felt no need to discuss (although these are the charges that now haunt me).
With no instruction on how to deliberate, we didn’t feel obliged to consider several important aspects of the evidence, especially a highly questionable confession in which a Spanish-speaking defendant confessed to aggravated sexual assault.
The tone of the whole trial, including statements of the public defender, led us to conclude we really were there to rubber-stamp the charges. No one seemed to expect us to take our time reaching a verdict. It was a Friday afternoon (I’m now convinced the judge planned it that way so we wouldn’t deliberate seriously). (The judge subsequently lost her endorsement by the Chicago Bar Association, BTW. So there is some justice in Chicago, after all.)
Please don’t misunderstand me: I am not criticizing the Andrade jury. They did the best they could under the circumstances, and they reflected the standards of their community—as juries are supposed to do.
However, I do think the hate-crime charge may not have been proven by the evidence presented in the trial. This may be simply my misunderstanding of the rationale behind hate-crimes legislation, or it may be that I didn’t hear all the testimony.
I plan to write more about this issue of deliberations. I’m inclined to think juries should be educated about how to deliberate. This could be accomplished through a better juror handbook than most states offer, or through a video. I realize the development of such materials could be highly problematic, but I spent many years developing training materials, and I know it can be done. I even know the effectiveness of such training materials can be reasonably well tested for efficacy.
To be continued . . . .