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Mar 28, 2018 17 tweets 4 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
I'm seeing a lot of tweets about the #Belfast verdict, and some of them are outright ridiculous. People are equating "not guilty" with "proven innocent" and calling the victim a liar. #Ibelieveher and I'm going to explain why, using my experience as a juror to inform you.
I was a juror on a trial a few years ago. The case was a restraining order breach. I'm not going to give many details, but we had a frightened victim on a screened witness stand telling us what had happened. Then we watched some CCTV showing a bit of what had happened.
I have no doubt that that victim was telling the truth, she was visibly terrified. I have no doubt that she had good reason to fear the defendant: the restraining order was granted for a reason and he was mocking her from the dock (this is probably why she asked to be screened).
The CCTV footage unambiguously showed that he had been present at the scene, and showed that she also had been there seconds earlier. There was no audio on the footage and the offence he was charged with involved him speaking to her. This was key to our decision.
When the jury retired, we unanimously and immediately voted to acquit. I believed her, but I voted to acquit because the conditions in which I could vote to convict were so strict that I had no choice to acquit. I'll explain in the following tweets.
For a juror to vote to convict, the juror must 1) "be sure beyond reasonable doubt" that 2) the defendant 3) committed the offence they are charged with. This is because of Blackstone's Formulation: "It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer".
Blackstone's Formulation is the ethical basis for the three points I've numbered above. I've numbered them so I can refer back to them to discuss them further.
1) "Sure beyond reasonable doubt" *requires* that jurors acquit unless the evidence to convict is utterly compelling. This means, in practice, that a witness's word alone won't convict, because the witness might be mistaken. Humans are fallible.
In the trial I was at, the lack of audio on the recording meant that there was no corrobation of her account of what she said, and we needed corrobation to convict. That doesn't mean our defendant hadn't spoken to our witness, it just meant the prosecution couldn't prove it.
2) In cases where there are multiple defendants who could have committed the offence, for example FGM cases where several family members were involved and cases like the Belfast one where there were multiple defendants for a group rape case, the jury has to treat each
defendant as an individual when passing verdicts. It might be clear from the material evidence (an injured vagina, a mutilated girl-child) that *someone* has raped that woman or cut that girl's vulva, but it is harder to prove *which one* of the people in the dock did it.
We can't convict them all on the grounds that "one of them is guilty, we just don't know which one", so we acquit all of them. (If we could, it would certainly stop co-accused from covering up for each other, but "guilt by association" is a bad legal principle so we can't.)
If you are still not sure about this, think of how Christine and Neil Hamilton escaped a speeding ticket by each claiming that they couldn't remember which of them was driving at the time. Then apply that tactic to gang rapists or FGM perpetrators.
3) The offence they are charged with is very strictly defined. We as jurors could see that the witness was terrified and we could see, based on the defendant's behaviour in the dock, that she had good cause to be. We were so disgusted by his obvious contempt for her, us, and
the court that we chatted and played parlour games in the retiring room for over an hour, to make him wait in fear for his verdict and feel some of the fear he'd forced on her. But we still could not convict. "Being an abusive asshat" wasn't what he had been charged with.
I'm not saying that we should change our legal system: avoiding wrongful convictions is very important. What I am saying is that an acquittal doesn't prove that the defendant/s are/is innocent and it doesn't prove that the victim is a liar.

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