A Tarrant County jury found a defendant not guilty in a DWI trial on October 29th, after having questions about the Intoxilyzer device used after his arrest. The shocking thing isn’t that a DWI case went to a jury trial—though that is certainly rare—but how visiting retired Judge Jerry Ray responded to that “not guilty” verdict. Via Grits For Breakfast, we get the court reporter’s transcript:
I’ve been at this such a long time I know better than to get angry. But you just decided to ignore the law and your oath, and you know you did. The note that you sent out says, “Can we ignore the Intoxilyzer.” And you have the definitions of intoxication. And they were certainly—At least that one was very plain in this case and up on the board for you to see. And for whatever reasons, you chose to ignore that part of the evidence. And you have the right to do that. It’s called jury nullification. It’s when a jury decides to ignore the law or ignore the evidence. And they just want a certain outcome, and they maneuver until they get there. Perfect example, the O.J. Simpson trial. He clearly committed murder, and the jury didn’t want to convict him, so they found a way to—to render a not guilty verdict. So it happens. I’ve been around over 40 years in this profession, tried an awful lot of cases as a defense lawyer, as a prosecutor, and as a judge, and it happens. But this ranks among there as one of the most bizarre verdicts that I’ve seen. Thank you for your service, and you are excused.
That’s a very strongly worded response to a jury’s verdict, and for a judge to have such an outburst is, frankly, at least as bizarre as Judge Ray seems to think the verdict was. And Judge Ray’s invocation of “jury nullification” is a little confusing, too. It isn’t simply ignoring certain evidence. According to the Cornell Legal Information Institute, jury nullification is:
A jury’s knowing and deliberate rejection of the evidence or refusal to apply the law either because the jury wants to send a message about some social issue that is larger than the case itself, or because the result dictated by law is contrary to the jury’s sense of justice, morality, or fairness.
That is to say, if the jury found that the DWI law under which Tran had been charged was an unfair law, and therefore chose to acquit Tran of DWI despite being convinced of his guilt—that would be jury nullification. (It’s something that came up in California recently, as the mayor of San Diego urged a federal jury to nullify a case against a medical marijuana dispensary.) If they’re simply unconvinced that the results of the Intoxilyzer are accurate, which is not an unreasonable position for juries in Texas, then they’re not practicing jury nullification. In that case, the jury is not ignoring evidence, but questioning whether it is indeed ironclad proof of the defendant’s guilt. That is to say, they’re just doing their job as a jury and considering the presented evidence.
Judge Ray’s frustration at the verdict led him to lecture the defendant, as well. That led to another bizarre exchange, after the judge declared that he was “absolutely legally guilty” of the charge. (Which is not the case, as he was found legally innocent—though he may have been factually guilty.)
THE COURT: You got lucky. You absolutely are legally guilty of this offense. But the jury has returned this verdict, and the Court’s obligated to accept that verdict, and you are found not guilty. You should not have been drinking, period, zero—
MR. TRAN: I agree.
THE COURT: —zip. Not just that night, but any night. You still shouldn’t, you’re not 21.
MR. CABALLERO: He—He is actually now.
THE COURT: You are 21?
MR. CABALLERO: Yes.
THE COURT: I thought you were 17.
MR. CABALLERO: At the time.
THE COURT: At the time, that was 3 years ago. My math must be off.
There’s something deeply uncomfortable about a judge who, in a very brief statement, misuses the terms “jury nullification” and “legally guilty,” and who clearly has no idea how old the defendant he’s admonishing about underage drinking actually is as he stands before him. Fortunately, the jury system means that he’s not the arbiter of guilt—and while we have no idea whether or not the jury made the right call here, the fact that the judge was so unhappy with them is actually kind of encouraging.
(image via Flickr)