Last week I wrote about Tim Cahill’s decision to testify in his own defense in his on-going political corruption trial in Suffolk Superior Court. After days of deliberations, the jury found Cahill’s co-defendant Not Guilty and failed to reach a verdict on Cahill. As a result, the judge declared a mistrial. As Attorney General Martha Coakley contemplates retrying the case (a mistrial due to a deadlocked jury does not cause jeopardy to attach so it’s up to the discretion of the prosecutor to try the case again), Cahill claims publicly that the mistrial was a “complete vindication.”
Calling a deadlocked jury a “complete vindication” is a stretch since no one but the twelve people in the jury room knows how the votes were cast. Was it 11 to 1 to acquit, 11 to 1 to convict, or some mix in between? Lawyers go crazy trying to discern the answer to that question. My opinion, for whatever it’s worth, is that Coakley should now drop the case. I don’t want to diminish the importance of prosecuting political corruption and there certainly was incriminating evidence against Cahill, but this is the first prosecution brought under the new 2009 state ethics law and so there are still many questions about what exactly was criminalized by the new statute. Furthermore, I assume Coakley’s prosecutors presented their best possible case so what other evidence would be presented now that wasn’t offered in the first case. Most of all, the fact that one jury could not reach a decision leaves me wondering what another jury would do. Certainly you could keep empaneling juries until you found one to either acquit or convict, but with a “gray area” case such as this, I think it best to take one shot and leave it at that.
Such a line of thinking is at the heart of the instruction Massachusetts judges give to jurors who report themselves deadlocked. The so-called Rodgriguez charge says in essence that there’s no reason to think that 12 other jurors could do a better job so go back, keep deliberating, think about the points made by those with an opposing viewpoint, but don’t surrender your principals.” Lawyers call this the “dynamite” charge because it’s intended to break the logjam in the jury room. For those who haven’t had the experience of being on a deadlocked jury, here’s what the judge instructs in such a case: read more »