The Jury as mushrooms

Some years ago, I was empanelled as a juror in a case of culpable driving causing death. An educational experience – but excuse my cynicism.

The case rested on some evidence from eyewitnesses but mostly on expert witness testimony from a police collisions expert.

The judge didn’t help at all. His Honour was in his 60’s. It was obvious he didn’t understand the expert witness testimony, and he made no attempt to hide his own opinion that the defendant was guilty as sin.

The police witness offered up calculations based on skid marks, depth of impact damage and estimates of road and climate conditions. He needed to show that the driver was doing at least 90km/hr to prove culpable driving. He calculated 93km/hr. The problem was, though, he gave no error bounds. For all we knew, he could have meant that within the 90th percentile of likelihood, 93km/hr was the lower bound. We tried to get clarification. The judge refused the written jury request. We were forced to assume (and it seemed reasonable) that there was at least a 5 to 10% error margin in each of the 3 main factors he used to determine the speed. Given that there was less than a 3% margin for conviction, we were forced to aquit the driver as there was cause for reasonable doubt.

The judge was obviously flabberghasted when he read the verdict. He thought he’d told us exactly what to do. He didn’t realise he’d undermined his own case.

Mind you, most of us on the jury felt that the impassive young man in the dock – who spoke not a word in his own defence – was probably guilty. But, unfortunately, not beyond reasonable doubt.

He would probably go on to be tried for the lesser charge of dangerous driving, (to be decided “on the balance of probabilities”) for which I sincerely hope he was suitably punished.

The tears of the friends and relatives of the two people he killed will always haunt my own memory.


1 Response to “The Jury as mushrooms”

  1. 1 kate r November 7, 2007 at 2:03 am

    and what a good entry it is, over at my blog. She has a Future as a Writer. (Act quickly and maybe you can still get her interested in chartered accountancy or something way less frustrating.)

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