Saturday, September 29, 2007

Spector Jury Hangs

I know I'm late on this one, but it certainly deserves a comment. The Phil Spector jury has hung, which wasn't looking like a huge surprise as the jury's questions became more and more pointed. A few thoughts.

First of all, I certainly can understand why Judge Fidler didn't want a hung jury. This case lasted months, it was very costly, and consumed quite a bit of the Court's resources. That being said, the lengths he began going to to try and get a verdict went a little overboard. The notion of giving the jury a lesser of involuntary manslaughter during deliberations defied imagination - of course, he ended up not doing it, but the amount of press that it got clearly swayed some jurors into realizing that the judge wanted them to reach a verdict of guilty as to something.

From what I understand about the jury instruction the judge gave to the jury, and then withdrew, it appeared as if it was not a correct statement of the law. It may have been a correct statement of the law according to the prosecution's theory of the case vs. the defense's theory of the case. The prosecution's clear theory was that Spector shot Clarkson after putting the gun in her mouth - if it went off accidentally or on purpose it didn't matter, since putting it there was "implied malice," and therefore an act so dangerous to human life that the mere act of doing implies the person is acting with malice (as opposed to the gross negligence or recklessness that is required for involuntary manslaughter). The defense theory was that whoever put the gun into her mouth, Spector didn't pull the trigger, and hence, couldn't be held liable for murder. The problem is, in the abstract, one could be liable under implied malice for murder by putting a gun in someone's mouth even if you don't eventually pull the trigger. Such a scenario was never explored in this case, but giving a jury instruction that he must be not guilty if he didn't pull the trigger is an incorrect statement of the law. How a change in that instruction could've made the difference is beyond me, though. I can't imagine that there were guilty jurors out there who believe that she pulled the trigger.

The retrial is going to be as long and tedious as the first one. It's going to be a slog, and it's going to happen. There is no chance that the prosecution is going to offer Spector anything that he will take - it's too politically unpalatable. District Attorney Steve Cooley will look like a fool in public if he gives Spector anything in the single digits, and Spector, at nearly 70 years old, is not going to plead to double digit time. I just can't see this case settling, especially not with a 10-2 for guilty split. If this was one of my cases, we would settle it for about 12 years or so. That's not going to happen in this case.

Spector will probably get new lawyers. From their perspective, they've just done a great job. They hung the case, they got on TV every day, it is a boon to their career. There's almost no uphill from here, unless they win it next time (not too likely to happen, in light of the split and juror comments in this case). Reality speaking - they're gone.

For the rest of us defense lawyers, I think this is a bad thing. This perpetuates the misconception that prosecutors can't win a fair fight, and that laws need to be changed to deal with it. I'm sure that this will fuel another round of pushing for non-unanimous jurors (the "Phil Spector law?"), and also to keep cases off TV. But, more than anything, it makes future jurors think that every defense lawyer has some trick up his sleave to try and get his obviously guilty client off, and that they should not be trusted. The net result of that means that, sure as day turns into night, there will be more innocent people getting convicted by more overly skeptical jurys. And that's a bad thing, especially for us public defenders who represent the most downtrodden in society. But, I survived OJ, I'll survive this.


Dennis R. Wilkins said...


I somewhat disagree with some of your post. I know that Spector will "hurt us in the long run" just like every other high-profile case that comes along hurts the defense. If he loses, it proves that they're all guilty. If he wins, it's just money talking. I believe that the Blake trial represented the epitomy of reasonable doubt - I think he did it, but there are just too many flakey witnesses and just enough reasonable doubt (actually more than enough) to prevent a conviction.

We have a coviction-minded media just waiting to say how guilty everyone is. But the truth is far more complex - the prosecution was not pushing this case to trial for the simple reason that they knew that they had problems. Where is the blood on Spector's hands, if he fired the gun?

Yes, there were little droplets on his shirt, but not on the sleeves and not on his hands. Why? Simple explanation: he didn't pull the trigger. Not one prosecution expert could clearly state that he pulled the trigger. Andnot one forensic expert could clearly explain the lack of blood. The reason the jury was so close to convicting was the 1101(b)/1109 evidence, which shouldn't have come in in the first place. Fidler did Spector no favors along the way - allowing those incidents was unfair and simply poisoned the jury from being fair.

The simple conclusion that I came to after looking at the evidence, and I'm sure that at least some of the jurors came to the same conclusion, is that Spector pulled the gun on the victim, and perhaps even put the gun in her mouth, but then she committed suicide. He basically was backing up when she pulled the trigger. Then Spector freaks and tries to clean the scene. That is the most logical explanation. And I don't see murder in those circumstances.

As to the instruction, it was unfair for Fidler to withdraw the instruction in the first place. He agreed to it. It made the clear point that, esentially, the prosecution argued it this way, therefore you have to believe their case beyond a reasonable doubt. They didn't argue any other way (Spector put the gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger). The prosecution obviously saw that if they argued just about anything else, they would lose credibility with the jury. When Fidler then came up with alternate scenarios, and even listed hypotheticals, hypos that the DA NEVER EVEN ARGUED, it is a wonder that Spector wasn't convicted then and there. Talk about improper! If both sides are repeatedly arguing over X, but then the judge says, oh by the way, you can decide the case based on Y, Z, or Q, then you bet that the jury is likely to jump at Y, Z or Q. It took the civil engineer to see through this stuff and hold to the law.

My prediction: without a change of venue, I believe that Spector will hang again. An NG is going to be tough if the prior women come in again, solely because it makes Spector look bad. If the DA brings in the statement, then Spector can testify, which might not be a bad thing in the long run. Although, I'm pretty sure that the reason he was kept off the stand in the first place is because he's a foul-mouthed alkie who would make a lousy witness.

A Voice of Sanity said...

And people like Jay Leno just assume guilt and then shoot off their mouths making jokes about California juries. The facts are that California juries are all too eager to convict despite the evidence - but only if the defendant isn't a cop (in which case the presumption of innocence reigns supreme over the facts). Shame on all of them.