You're on a criminal jury. WOuld you want to know if there's a mandatory prison sentence?

I’ve been a public defender in Georgia for 23 years. Over the past few years, there have been an increasing number of changes in the law that require mandatory prison sentences for certain crimes- some with parole, most without. If a defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty, the judge has no choice but to sentence him to a certain term of years in prison. I’m not going to go into specifics, because I don’t want this thread to turn into “I think x is a perfectly reasonable sentence for y”.

The law in Georgia is that, except in death penalty cases, the jury cannot know about the potential or mandatory sentences for the case that is being decided. The jury only decides guilt or innocence and doesn’t have anything to do with the sentencing (except in death penalty cases).

So, let’s assume for the sake of argument that you are on a jury in a criminal case. Would you want to know if the law required the judge to give a minimum term of years in prison? Would you want to know whether it’s subject to parole? Would it make a difference in your decision about guilt or innocence- would you be more likely to find someone not guilty if felt that the required sentence was unfair, even if the evidence convinced you beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty?

I’d want to know about the sentencing guidelines, but it wouldn’t effect my ability to determine guilt or innocence.

I wouldn’t want to know, though I don’t think it would influence my decision either. It’s simply not within the scope of my duties as a juror to judge the appropriateness of a sentence.

I strongly suspect that knowledge of mandatory sentences would lead to an increase in jury nullification. Local practice is that lawyers are routinely excused from jury duty, so I’m never likely to be in a situation where it would matter to me.

I would want to know. My interpretation of the law would be in some part based on the punishment. If the punishment seemed harsh for the actual crime I would consider if the definition of the law applied to the case. If it was outrageous, I’d nullify. Conversely, I wouldn’t give a defendant too much benefit of the doubt if the punishment seemed insubstantial compared to the actual act. All this applies in the case of determining if the law applies to the known action of the defendant, not in deciding what the has actually occurred based on the evidence.

As a former member (Foreman, even) of a jury, I would like to know, but I was told that I could not know for legal reasons. The decision should be made according to the facts, not according to the potential punishment.

This may be legal, but it’s morally wrong.

Agreed, it’s morally wrong.

The decision of what actually happened has to be made on the facts. Whether or not the events that occurred based on the facts are subject to a particular law is based on the judge or jury’s interpretation of the law, and a mandatory punishment is a factor in that interpretation. I assume the excuse for not informing the jury about the punishment falls in that category of being more prejudicial than probative, but that turns out to be some judge’s interpretation which gets applied across the board instead of on a case by case basis. Justice should be blind, but not deaf, gagged and bound.

Unless US military “justice” has changed much in the last 50 years, the disconnect between offense and punishment is absolute.

First, the determination is to guilt. Next, once guilt has been established, the punishment is decided, and in the military, the punishment maximum is determined not by the crime, but by the level of the judging body. The higher up the body, the greater the punishment that can be meted out, and it has no relationship to the actual crime.

Again, legal and practical, but morally wrong, IMHO.

I would know, judges instructions or no. If I was even considered for impaneling I’d be looking up all the necessary information before the jury ever sat.

That’s one of the reasons I’d make a lousy juror, I guess.

I would like to know. The jury I was on, the defendant had been held without bail (or couldn’t make bail) for nearly a year. If he was potentially going to spend MORE time in jail if we thought his crime was minor, it would have made a huge difference to my jury.

I would not want to know, and I don’t think any juror should know. Having been on a jury, it’s clear as day that juries don’t get all the facts surrounding a case, only those that a judge believes are relevant to the issue of guilt or innocence. I think there are a lot more factors that would weigh on the question of proper punishment that would be only revealed after the question of guilt is decided.

Besides, I think potential punishment is an issue that could only work in favor of the defendant. I don’t think that’s fair.

And I’m saying this as someone who has a big problem with mandatory minimums.

Guilt or innocence is based on the provable circumstances of the alleged crime, and the definition of the law. IMHO, the potential punishment is a part of the definition of the law. You might as well remove the definition of the law altogether and just have the jury decide whether an event happened or not, and let the judge decide if the law applies. This all sounds like an attempt to have judges and prosecutors remove their responsibility for the immoral results of a trial.

There are degrees of guilt. And since not all defendants have access to top legal counsel, I would want to know.

It’s ridiculous to think juries only should decide on the stone cold facts. If that was the case, why not simply have the jurors read a transcript of the case, with all the objections written out. Or listen to a video of it, with the objections and such that were overruled taken out.

Juries decide guilt based on whether or not someone shows emotion on the stand. Is this right? Perhaps or perhaps not, but it is how it is.

I would want to know. Traditionally judges have been the ones who could humanize the law by taking the particular circumstances of a case under consideration. A cold-blooded robber who has a track record a mile long deserves a longer sentence than some desperate, broke soul at the end of his resources. If the legislators have taken away the judge’s ability to do this by legal fiat, I wanna know about it. And yeah, I am gonna be a LOT less likely to convict if I know there is a mandatory sentencing rule. Fuck that shit.

I want to know. The purpose of having a trial by jury is to uphold justice and act as a check on an unfair trials run by a government not necesarily interested in justice. Mandatory minimum sentences are one tendency that government has made that detracts from that - both from upholding justice and by increasing unfair results. As a juror, I don’t think it would be my job to necesarily robotically determine guilt/innocence if I knew the results would ultimately be an injustice. I wouldn’t find the idea of putting someone in jail for 10 years for having some weed to be a just result, for example, even if it were factually proven that the guy did indeed have the weed.

Morally wrong? Give me a break. Someone’s guilt or innocence of a crime is not and should not be based upon the potential punishment they would recieve. If mandatory punishments have been enacted then that is the will of the people that elected the officials that enacted those laws. Otherwise have the laws with the mandatory punishments changed. It is not the place of the jury to impose legislative changes on an ad hoc basis, case by case.

Personally I run into a dilemma.

I would want to know whether the crime has a mandatory minimum sentence or not and, if so, what that MMS is.
But I also know that it would probably affect my thinking on this case.
And rationally, I realize that the purpose of the jury in the trial is to determine guilt or innocence and NOT concern itself with sentencing until that phase begins.
So given that…I wouldn’t want to know. Because it would affect me enough to not allow me to do my duty as a jury member.
But…I’d still wanna know…

While in theory there is something romantic about the activist jury, in practice I think the bar of “what punishment offends your personal sense of justice” as a dispositive factor in the determination of guilt is too arbitrary and capricious to be so casually applied.

Yes, we need checks and balances, and we already have that. It’s the ballot box, not the juror’s box. I personally think that jailtime for, say, pot possession is too severe a punishment, but every time a ballot initiative comes up to legalize pot, it fails to pass, meaning that evidently the majority of citizens disagree with your (and my) personal justice.

Take, for instance, someone shoplifting $500 from Wal-Mart. If I’m on the jury, and the prosecution conclusively proves that the defendant did shoplift $500, I’m voting to convict. Why wouldn’t I?

Now what if this is the defendant’s third strike in a 3 strike state? What if a conviction gets him thrown in prison for life over $500? If I uphold my duty as a jury member, I should maintain my stance from the previous paragraph and vote to convict.

Would I really vote to convict? Really really? Throw the guy in jail for the rest of his life over $500? I don’t know if I could do that. It shouldn’t make a difference as to his guilt or innocence. But it does.

But it’s not like these situations were unforeseeable when the legislation was enacted. As a matter of policy, the state decided that they want to get habitual offenders out of society. It’s worth noting that he’s not going to jail for stealing $500 - he’s going to jail for two serious felonies and then stealing $500. The Supreme Court has already upheld such sentences as not violating the 8th Amendment, so who is the juror to say that it is unreasonable?

The point is, that’s not an issue that the juror should be debating in each case. The proper avenue for those changes should be legislative, and indeed, amendments like California Prop 36 do ameliorate the effect of those laws.