Too often juries comprise 12 confused men (and women)

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IN 1954 an Ohio jury was told it must acquit Sam Sheppard of murdering his wife if the jurors had a “reasonable doubt” that he had done so. The judge then defined “reasonable doubt”:

It is not a mere possible doubt, because everything relating to human affairs or depending upon moral evidence is open to some possible or imaginary doubt. It is that state of the case which, after the entire comparison and consideration of all the evidence, leaves the minds of the jurors in that condition that they cannot say they feel an abiding conviction to a moral certainty of the truth of the charge.

Sheppard was convicted. Larry Solan of Brooklyn Law School reckons that this and other baffling instructions misled the jury into thinking that the burden of proof was on Sheppard to prove himself innocent, not on the state to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In a second trial, in 1966, he was found not guilty and freed.

A jury is a buffer…Continue reading

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