November 19, 2005

Jury instructions explained

The Dispatch has a report explaining the intricacies and facts surrounding juror instructions.
Jury instructions in Sarah Kolb's murder trial couldn't have been any clearer, Rock Island County State's Attorney Jeff Terronez said Friday.

"Every month, every week across the state a jury's given these instructions. To say the instructions are confusing would say every other jury has been duped," Mr. Terronez said Friday.

But, he said, the instructions could seem "intimidating and confusing" when dealing with such a heavy load as the emotionally charged death of Adrianne Reynolds.

"All in a span of 15 minutes, they are given all the instructions of the law and they are told to figure it out," he said. "I deal with the instructions on a regular basis, so they are clear to me."

The jury instructions came from the Illinois Pattern Instructions, or IPI, approved by the Illinois Supreme Court. Attorneys for both sides argue to the judge which ones should be given to the jury before it begins deliberations.

The jurors were given 30 instructions on the law regarding how testimony and evidence should be viewed, what the state had to prove on each charge and the definitions of each charge.

Jurors sent at least eight questions to the judge on wording used in the instructions, including definitions of the terms "presumption of innocence" and "intent"
It also provides clarification on the issue of whether someone dropped the ball in explaining the jury instructions, which resulted in the jury being unaware that they could find Kolb guilty on the charge of concealing a homicide while not reaching a verdict on the other charges.
A few jurors questioned said the panel unanimously agreed the state proved Ms. Kolb was guilty of the concealment charge. Their decision wasn't pursued and Mr. Terronez, nor the jurors interviewed, could explain why.

The jury foreman — reportedly the lone holdout on the jury — said the jury instructions weren't clear they could file a guilty plea on the concealment charge and be hung on the others.

Mr. Terronez told jurors they could reach a verdict on one charge and not the others during his closing arguments. Judge Teros told jurors that before deliberations began, he said.

"They don't have to listen to me on this, I 'm just a lawyer arguing the case, but they have to listen to the judge," Mr. Terronez said.

While Mr. Terronez said the instructions were clear, assistant public defender Dave Hoffman, Ms. Kolb's attorney, said the instructions were ambiguous in favor of the prosecution.
Many commenters have seemed to seize on evidence they say proved Kolb had "intent" to murder Reynolds. They seemed to have the impression that jury foreman Hurty felt that intent was not proven, though I'm not sure where they're getting this idea. However, Kolb's attorney Dave Hoffman suggests that in order to find Kolb guilty, the prosecution needed to prove actual action taken, not merely intent.
After the mistrial was declared, Mr. Hoffman said the near-guilty murder verdicts stemmed from the jury's misconception of their instructions.

"I think the jury didn't have a clear conception, which is probably my fault, as to what involves accountability. It takes action, not just sitting there and doing nothing," he said.
Have at it.


At 11/19/2005 7:19 PM, Blogger diehard said...

Poor Adrain Reynolds! And family.
But I think Hoffman is beating up on himself.
It is the state's responsability to prove Sara Kolb's guilt.
And they could not get it done!
Remember the burden of proof relies on the State! Not the QC Times, or KWQC, or right wing moonbat Jim Fisher.
The state!!!
While I think I would have agreed with the other jurors lets stop looking at the lone juror and acknowledge that our system does not always work the we want it to.

At 11/20/2005 11:00 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

And.. here's a REALLY radical idea. I'm almost afraid to even suggest it... but here goes...

Maybe NO ONE is at fault.

There, I said it.

This is just the way our judicial system works. A mistrail is just one of the possible outcomes, and in this particular case, it turned out this way.

The jury didn't understand the instructions, but Teros and everyone else apparently explained them to them. If any fault is present, it's the juries for not being able to figure out the instructions.

The court and attorneys are very limited in what they can say by way of explanations on these instructions.

They're cut and dried and are given to the jurors as they're written. Any attempt to interpret them for the jurors or change the wording would lead to possible mistrail or being over-turned on appeal if the other side argued that the instructions were mis-interpreted, etc.

The instructions are cookie-cutter, pre-written by a legal source which the state sanctions, and all parties agree on which ones will be used before the trial, as I understand it.

Beyond that, there's not much anyone can do. The jury got confused as to being able to split the charges, despite the judge and prosecutor reminding them that they could.

As to the hold-out juror, well, there's nothing to see here folks, move along.

Just a guy who didn't feel the state met it's burden to prove guilt beyond a resonable doubt.

There's clearly no place where obvious blame can be laid.

No one did anything wrong. And a mistrial is not a "WRONG" result. It's just one possible result. And as it happens, the result of this case.

Now there's always room for speculation as to whether one side or the other could have presented a better case, or whether that would have made a difference. But that's merely speculation and impossible to determine.

At 11/20/2005 3:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have only been in the RI County courtroom once to see a judge in action and it seemed to me that he could say a few things about the law if he wanted to.

I have a hard time believing that they can't make the instructions a bit more user friendly for the jury. And although I am no expert at the law or anything, one has to wonder if maybe we are lacking a bit of common sense in our county?

Let's see a few more women on the bench in the future and mix things up a bit.....

At 11/21/2005 9:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone wonders why they didn't except the guilty charge of concealment.Here's why... if they did then all evidence of concealment could not be entered in the retrial. Think about how much testimony and evidence they wouldn't be able to use next time.


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