Wednesday, September 12, 2007

An Irrational Jury

The 14th Amendment's Due Process clause and Jackson v. Virginia allow the Bryan criminal appeal lawyer to argue a jury was irrational when they rejected a client's defense and convicted him of the offense charged. If the higher court is persuaded by the argument, then the client is acquitted. Essentially a finding of not guilty on appeal. In Texas, appeal lawyers have another arrow in their quiver regarding the jury's rejection of a trial defense. If the higher court believes the conviction was against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence, the court will send the case back for a new trial. Not as good as an acquittal, but certainly a good day in the office for any criminal defense lawyer.

I ponder these legal principles having just completed a brief on appeal to the 10th Supreme Judicial District Court of Appeals in Waco, Texas. My client is hoping for a second chance from what we believe was an irrational decision by the jury to convict him of unlawfully carrying a handgun. The handgun was found underneath a sleeping bag, which was inside a van where he was living. At the time of the alleged offense, in Texas, a person was permitted to carry a handgun on their own premises, or premises under their control. The definition of premises included a recreational vehicle being used as living quarters, a travel trailer, camping trailer, truck camper, motor home, or horse trailer with living quarters.

My client was a good man looking to find his way after being recently divorced from his wife of 7 years. He was having trouble finding regular employment and keeping a roof over his head. Consequently, his father spent $850.00 and bought him an old Ford Econoline van. Dad told his son to live in the van until he got his feet on the ground. For six months my client lived, slept, and ate out of that crusty old vehicle. He built shelves inside to store his worldly possessions, he rigged an old car battery for power to run a television set, he kept a couple ice chests in the back for storing food. His bed was an old sleeping bag and pillow. The van was also full of dirty clothes and smelled just like you'd expect.

The officers who testified at trial said it looked like my client was living in the van. My client's father testified he was living in the van. My client testified the van was his home containing all his worldly possessions. Even the local librarians who knew him said they thought he was living in the van. The prosecutor fought me tooth-and-nail to keep this defense out of the jury instructions. However, the judge thought better of it and granted the request.

Needless to say the jury rejected our argument. Now we hope the Court of Appeals will recognized either the irrational jury decision, or that the great weight and preponderance of evidence favored an acquittal. An appeals court is a tough beast to tame, but we'll continue to maintain hope on this one.

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