At the end of November, a jury in San Francisco acquitted Jose Ines Garcia Zarate of the murder of Kate Steinle. As anyone who has not been living under a rock for the last month knows, uproar ensued. The case has drawn uncommon national attention, ostensibly because the accused was an undocumented immigrant who had previously been deported and convicted of illegally re-entering the country (though as is often the case when local criminal cases grab unwarranted national headlines, it certainly helped that the victim was an attractive young white woman). When the jury returned an acquittal not just as to the 1st degree murder as charged, but also the lesser included charge of manslaughter, only convicting Zarate of the illegal possession of the firearm used in the homicide, the Build the Wall crowd predictably lost their feeble minds.
Both Trump and his Confederacy loving flunky Jeff Sessions criticized the jury’s verdict as a travesty of justice. I am not writing today to defend the verdict as correct. I do not frankly know enough about the facts of the case to weigh in on whether I agree with the verdict (although I recognize that the optics and emotions of a case like this do not generally set the stage for an acquittal and that the jury certainly did not make what would have been the easier choice lending a lot of credibility to their verdict in my mind). Instead, I write today to talk about some of the common nonsense that gets spewed when an acquittal upsets the law and order folks.
A criminal jury trial is:
If you picked C, you might have been awake in your high school civics class!
A criminal jury is about one thing and one thing only: whether the government can present sufficient admissible evidence to prove the accusations it has made beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s it. If it can, the defendant is convicted. If it cannot, the defendant is found Not Guilty, which anyone paying attention has a very different meaning than Innocent.
So a criminal jury trial is neither about justice for a victim nor is it a search for the truth. This is underscored by who the plaintiff is in a criminal case: The People a/k/a society at large. The plaintiff is not the victim of the crime. In a civil case, where a person can seek justice for wrongs committed against them, the named plaintiff IS the alleged victim.
In addition, a criminal jury trial is an opportunity to “figure out what happened” or “search for the truth” as prosecutors are fond of suggesting. By the time a criminal case proceeds to trial, the search should be over. By the time of trial. the government has searched and decided they believe they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crimes they are charged with. The jury is there for one and only one reason: to tell the government whether they have done so or not.
That is all that happened in San Francisco, a jury told the government: sorry, not good enough.
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