Spammer's Sister Conviction Tossed Out

from the confusing-cases dept

There was a lot of talk a few months back when a North Carolina spammer was sentenced to nine-years in jail for spamming. What didn’t get as much attention was that, as part of the case, the spammer’s sister was also found guilty and fined for her role in the spamming operation (mainly for a list of email addresses bought with her credit card). However, a judge has now tossed out the conviction against the sister, noting that there really wasn’t any evidence that she was involved, and saying that the multiple defendants complicated matters. Apparently, the judge thought that the jury did a good job with the other two defendants, but said they were simply wrong when it came to the main spammer’s sister. Maybe the details are missing, but what’s the point of a jury trial when the judge can simply ignore their findings? Update: Brian McWilliams has a post saying that there was plenty of evidence that the sister was involved — but it wasn’t part of the trial for some reason.

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Comments on “Spammer's Sister Conviction Tossed Out”

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Hiawatha Bray (user link) says:

Judges and juries

I’m no lawyer, but as I understand it, judges have always been entitled to overrule jury verdicts–at least they can overrule guilty verdicts. The idea is that juries are imperfect and ignorant of the law. They can sometimes, with the best will in the world, reach verdicts which are manifestly unreasonable. In such cases, a judge can rely on his understanding of the law and the evidence, and say that the jury is so far off the beam that justice compels him to intervene.

DV Henkel-Wallace says:

Re: Judges and juries

I’m no lawyer, but as I understand it, judges have always been entitled to overrule jury verdicts

This is a relatively new phenomenon. It’s been a long time since I lived in Massachusetts, but in matters like this it generally hews to English tradition, which over centuries gave the jury primacy (a protection which was dismantled in Britain over the past few years by the way). I attended high school in Boston and one thing we did was study this system. I would be surprised, although not astonished, if this had changed.

Traditionally not only the defendant but even the law can be ruled on by the jury (this is called Jury Nullification — check out some interesting references here or search the web for innumerable pages by cranks on both sides of the issue). As you can see if you follow the reference this is enshrined in the constitutions of several states and was affirmed right at the start of the new republic.

This is true in California as well. However there are aggressive steps to dismantle it by stealth (hence the cranks). Judges explicitly instruct juries to rule only on the matters presented in court and specifically only on guilt/non-guilt. If you advocate ruling on the question, or even consult the text of the law, you can be thrown off the jury — illegal, but who’s going to fight it?

Precision Blogger (user link) says:

There's still apoint to jury trials, don't worry

The judge’s decision regarding the sister does not weaken the jury system. Judges have a discretion that can be abused, but is very necessary, for the precise reason that jurors are supposed to be ordinary citizens not versed in the law.

After a verdict is rendered, the jdge can decide that no reasonable evidence was presented by the prosecution to support the verdict; the verdict is then thrown out.

This happens more often BEFORE jury deliberation. Defense moves for a directed verdict and the judge throws the case out. But judges may wait until after deliberation; either they need time to decide, or they hope the jury will make the right decision and save them the effort.

Among other things, this check-and-balance prevents a silver-tongued prosecutor from swaying a jury despite every lack of evidence. There ARE incredibly persuasive lawyers around; I listened to one in amazement the one time I was a juror.
– Precision Blogger

Jeff R says:

Can override guilty verdicts only

The judge can set aside guilty verdicts when the law does not support such a finding. Likewise, a jury can find a defendant not-guilty even when the facts say they should be found guilty (jury nullification, as discussed in other comments).

What neither side can do is override the other to find a defendant guilty. This is another check and balance and a GoodThing(tm).

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