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Scott McDonald and Associates PLLC

How Can Two Juries on Same Washington Case Come to Opposite Conclusions?

The criminal assault trial of a Seattle Police officer has resulted in a deadlocked jury and mistrial of the case. Jurors in the second trial of the police officer hung up at 11-1 in favor of acquittal.  The first trial resulted in similar deadlock, but the jury voted 11-1 to convict. A unanimous vote was required in this Washington criminal trial.

The SPD officer is accused of assualting a teenager girl who kicked a shoe at the officer when told to remove her shoes.  In response the officer reacted by kicking, punching and grabbing the girl.  The event was caught on video tape and received intense media coverage.

The question that comes to mind is how did two juries come to nearly the exact opposite decision given the same facts and evidence? 

As trial attorney we love to say it was our well though out and skilled trial presentation.  While that may have a little to do with it, it is not the deciding factor in most cases.  The truth is that it was 12 different people on each jury.  One group of 12 jurors may hear and view the evidence in a much different way than a second group of twelve people.  That's how it is in many close cases. You could put the case to trial four times and still come up with a 50/50 split either way.

This is one of the dirty little secrets of the American justice system. I firmly believe our system of justice works and is the best in the world.  However, that does not mean it does not have its flaws.  Sometimes a jury of your peers does not mean each jury will reach the same result every time or that truth and justice will prevail every time.  How many cases of death row inmates have we heard about where alleged murders were released because DNA tests decades after a murder conviction proved innocence?

In our practice as Washington personal injury trial attorneys we do have cases that are close calls.  When a case is one where both sides have decent arguments to make, it is nearly impossible to predict what a jury will decide. Why? Because you never know who the 12 people are that will sit in your jury box.  Each juror has her/his own life experiences, values, expectations, view of right and wrong, biases, and even prejudices.  In such circumstances going to trial can be a little bit of a gamble, but it can also have a higher payoff.

In a typical Washington rear-end car accident case liability is usually admitted by the defendant and all your arguing over is how much the injured victim deserves in fair compensation from the defendant's insurance company.  In such cases, you have to make a choice between a sure result or a gamble for a hopefully better result.  Our clients in these cases often face a hard decision, take the insurance company's settlement offer that is on the very low end of fairness or go to trial and ask the jury to force the defendant's insurance company to pay what is fair to cover all the medical bills, lost wages, out of pocket expenses and something for all the hassle of dealing with the pain and life disruption.  

The complexity of jury trials is one that trial attorneys spend a lifetime to master.  The x-factor is often is the people who end up in the jury box.  That's why you can get two opposite results from the same facts and evidence.