Chandra Levy and The Rush to Judgment

A guilty verdict came today in the murder trial of Chandra Levy. She was an intern in Washington who might (or might not) have had an affair Congressman Gary Condit ten years ago. She was murdered while in Washington’s Rock Creek Park.  Fox News, at the time, turned this into its summer story as All-Levy-All-The-Time trying to force Condit from office.

But that isn’t why I write on the subject. I write because, according to this article, the evidence at the trial of Salvadoran immigrant Ingmar Guandique, who was arrested last year and charged with the murder, was reported as thin:

Prosecutors Amanda Haines and Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez obtained a conviction even though they had no eyewitnesses and no DNA evidence linking Guandique to Levy. And Guandique never confessed to police. Prosecutors hung their hopes in large part on a former cellmate of Guandique, Armando Morales, who testified that Guandique confided in him that he killed Levy.

But that news blurb doesn’t mean I have an opinion on guilt. I wasn’t in the courtroom hearing the evidence. By contrast, peruse the comments of the article and look at the rush to judgment in so many different comments. People make up their minds, not on hearing evidence over the course of a trial, but on how some reporter distills it all down to a few sentences. Here are a few samples from the last 10 minutes (there area already over 2,000 comments):

This sounds fishy. No direct evidence—I doubt that this guy would have been convincted if he was a smiling white guy without tattoos. Yes, he committed other crimes, but that doesn’t make him guilty of this one by default. I’m ashamed of our justice system for this decision and I hope it is appealed and overturned.

I think it is weird there is no DNA evidence but at least this guy is going to jail so he won’t attack any more people, just think about what his other victims went through, very glad he is going to jail!

This guy is innocent and the justice system is guilty!!!!!!….what a bunch of stupid attorneys, judges and jury group…seriously??…any fool can see that he did NOT kill her based on NO evidence…the Levy family did not put closure in anyway on this situation…it just reopened the wound!

so how did he become the murderer…wheres the evidence?! I’d love to see it!

another sacco and vanzetti trial

This man didnot do it. The DNA belongs to the middleman of Condit. Fear for his life and bribe for his family made him accept the verdict.

Those knee-jerk reactions are familiar with anyone that has picked a jury. It’s the rush to judgment over “these kinds of cases” if you happen to have a routine sort of fact pattern, such as a car accident. There are many who have already made up their minds. Facts aren’t really important to some people, because they have already made an emotional investment by forming an opinion on the case.

And the job of the trial lawyer is to find out who these people are before they get a chance to sit.

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6 Responses Leave a comment

  • P W Dennis 2010.11.23 at 08:16 | Quote

    Actually that is always the job of any trial attorney – find out who has a firm opinion and get rid of them if they are slanted against your client and see if you can get them on the jury if they are biased in your favor. A plaintiff attorney friend of mine once opined that a fair and impartial is what he will settle for if he can’t get the deck stacked in his favor

  • Eric Turkewitz 2010.11.23 at 14:04 | Quote

    @P W Dennis -

    Actually that is always the job of any trial attorney

    And yet, so many lawyer are so busy trying to indoctrinate potential jurors that they forget to ask open-eneded questions designed to let them talk and reveal something of themselves.

  • P W Dennis 2010.11.23 at 23:23 | Quote

    Originally Posted By Eric Turkewitz@P W Dennis -

    Actually that is always the job of any trial attorney

    And yet, so many lawyer are so busy trying to indoctrinate potential jurors that they forget to ask open-eneded questions designed to let them talk and reveal something of themselves.

    Quite true – I’ve sat through many a voir dire where one of the attorneys (usually, but not always) the criminal defense or civil plaintiff counsel is out there trying to “preach to the choir” . I really think that the fairest process is to simply simply pull the first twelve names on the list (or randomly pull 12 names from the list, allow no preemptory strikes and simply let counsel see if any of them should be dismissed for cause. The concept of jury selection consultants is an anathma to ideals of democracy. If you wind up with a dozen really dumb or highly intelligent jurors , so be it

  • Eric Turkewitz 2010.11.24 at 09:40 | Quote

    I really think that the fairest process is to simply simply pull the first twelve names on the list (or randomly pull 12 names from the list, allow no preemptory strikes and simply let counsel see if any of them should be dismissed for cause.

    The problem with that is the juror that gives all the “right” answers, but sits there with arms folded across the chest and silent growl in the throat. You’ve seen the look. Everyone has.

  • mythago 2010.11.24 at 18:08 | Quote

    And let’s not forget the judge who, on hearing your strike for cause, leans over and asks the juror “But you can be fair and impartial, can’t you, Mr. Juror?” to which Mr. Juror of course says yes, even though he’s spent the last ten minutes explaining why he’s going to vote against you.

  • P W Dennis 2010.11.24 at 22:33 | Quote

    @Eric Turkewitz

    Right – only to find out after all is said and done that this particular juror – the one with the look – actually was on your side and you completely misread the body language. I’ve seen this too often for it to be fair to allow body language to be a determinant. Perhaps the potential juror was suffering from hemorrhoids and was simply in discomfort

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