The Innocent in Jail
A simple unwanted truth would be to state that if you have a jury who came up with a verdict of ten to two then two out of twelve people found guilty will in fact be innocent, it’s the law of averages but let’s look just a little deeper.
The Ostrich Factor
So how sure do you have to be of someone’s guilt before you throw someone in jail? Well! The defendant has to be guilty beyond reasonable doubt. So, can we attribute a percentage to this? Do we send him down when the jury believes he is 99% guilty or 51% guilty. I always thought this a little ambiguous but there is in fact a precise percentage, it is 83.33%. Where did I dig that one from? Simple, the law accepts a guilty verdict of ten jurors to two. They would of course presume that the ten were 100% certain of guilt while the two were 100% sure of innocence; thus the official figure is 83.33% guilty. THE LAWMAKERS ARE MAKING A SIMPLE STATEMENT. Even if the jury voted 12-0 they still only have to be 83.33% sure of the defendants guilt; apply this 83% to individual jurors in a 10-2 verdict and the consensus would be more like 72%. The numbers may be hypothetical but they are probably very near the truth.
There are a number of things that muddy the water; if we try to apply these statistics to the amount of people banged up in jail. Such as people admitting guilt and plea-bargaining. If you are innocent and fight your case and you lose, you could be locked away for ten years. A plea bargain may get this down to a year; manslaughter instead of pre-meditated murder. Then there is the parole aspect. If you admit guilt and show remorse you will be free long before the guy who didn’t do it and pleads innocence.
The above is such a muddy scene it is probably better to concentrate on the jury’s certainty in a given case. I have sat on a jury and my feeling is that many juries will convict on a 60/40 (60% guilty-40% innocent) basis thus the official 83.33% doesn’t sound too bad. If we have 80,000 people behind bars, which we do in this country and we make the assumption that they got there by honest trials then it would be reasonable to presume that around 12,800 are innocent. The thing about this type of statistic when applied to a large number of people, it tends to be correct. Really to be sure we are not jailing innocent people, or at least keeping it to a minimum, juries should be 99% certain of their verdicts but of course virtually no one would ever get convicted of anything.
The ostrich factor is where we have a system that crucifies thousands of innocent people. What the ancient legislators have done is make the ambiguous statement ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ then they go and bury their heads in the sand and pretend everything is fine. It quite simply isn’t. It really is about time this idea of a hundred percent innocent or one hundred percent guilty is buried forever. It isn’t real, even the fairies in fairyland would have a problem with this system.
The reason we have such a system is the pretence that if someone is found innocent, all is forgotten and life goes on as normal. Come on, so our good friend Bill has been cleared of murder, we’ll let the kids go picking flowers with him in the woods after sunset. Once the accusation is made the damage is done. As a race it really is time we grew up.
The alternative of course is to allow individual jurors to vote in percentages and any sentence must take the percentages into account. You may put a murderer away for life with a 90% verdict but not 60%. What we have at the moment is guilty people walking free because of lack of certainty with some juries and people being jailed who are innocent through the zest of other juries. Life is not on and off, in or out; it’s analogue and sentences have to be analogue. A suspected murderer with a sixty percent vote against him must have a limited sentence and an eye must always be kept on him but to hang him or let him go is quite simply stupid. The sensible portion of our public will rightly keep their children away from him but equally they will not condemn him absolutely when there is a real chance he is innocent. This is the way grown up people think.
For anyone who doesn’t think there are a multitude of innocent people in jail all I can say is watch trials, see how convinced you are by the system. Always remember that if jury members are arguing between themselves about the defendant’s guilt then there is reasonable doubt or they wouldn’t be arguing. Have we ever seen a case where the jury wasn’t arguing?
To again reiterate the unwanted truth. If a jury can convict on a ten to two vote, two in twelve innocent people will be found guilty.
In the case of Damilola Taylor there were 3 trials featuring different defendants. How on earth can you be sure one lots to blame and then go and accuse some one else. If the police cannot make their mind up how can a jury convict? I would add that at the retrial of the second trial (is this a joke?) they did.