August 2010 Archives

August 30, 2010

Blagojevich Verdict and Unanimous Juries

Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was recently convicted of lying to the FBI.  But his trial resulted in a hung jury on numerous other counts, including the most signfiicant charge that he tried to auction off Pres. Barak Obama's vacated US Senate seat to the highest bidder.  

Since the jury hung 11-1 in favor of convicting Blagojevich of trying to sell the Senate seat, the government will no doubt re-try that and other charges in front of a new jury. Obviously relieved by his temporary reprieve, Blagojevich stated that the lone holdout had reaffirmed his faith in God. God of course did not create the rule that jury verdicts have to be unanimous.  Perhaps of greater surprise to many people, neither did the Constituition. While most states provide for unanimous verdicts in criminal cases, that requirement is not part of the Constitution.  The US Supreme Court has upheld convictions based on verdicts of 10-2.  

The outcome of what might come to be known as Blagojevich # 1 is either a great testament to the criminal jury's role as a buffer between the government and ordinary people, or a ludicrous and expensive example of how a single irrational juror can allow an obviously guilty and dismal politician to momentarily escape justice. In recent years, seemingly irrational trial outcomes have prompted outcries for doing away with unanimous verdict requirements in criminal cases (see the first trial of the Menendez Brothers and the O.J. Simpson fiasco).  But there's been no retreat from the rule, and I doubt the Blagojevich verdict will produce any changes.