JoAnn Chiakulas deserves a medal. Who is she? She was the holdout juror in the trial of disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The jury voted 11-1 to convict. Chiakulas held her ground. She’s been widely criticized because she held out and would not convict. But she did what she was legally obligated to do. She did what the court instructed her to do. She did what many jurors don’t do. She deserves a medal.
Many jurors are too quick to just follow the prosecutor’s evidence and blindly believe whatever the cops testify to and the prosecutor tells them in closing argument.
We have a jury system for a reason. The government doesn’t just have to convince one person beyond a reasonable doubt, they have to convince all 12 (six in District Court). If even one juror believes there is a doubt and won’t convict, then the accused does not get convicted. They can, however, be retried. Only if the jury is unanimous can they convict. When the jury is not unanimous a mistrial is declared and the defendant can be retried. If the jury unanimously has doubts and finds the defendant not guilty, the defendant can never be tried again for that charge. And never forget that “not guilty” is just another way to say “not proven.” It is not the same as “innocent.”
Articles describing why Chiakulas held out prove she did the right thing, knew what she was doing, and had the law and reason on her side. Chiakulas stressed that she did not find him innocent. Chiakulas said she also became concerned because some key witnesses against Blagojevich had cut deals with prosecutors before testifying. “Some people in (the jury room) only saw black and white,” Chiakulas said. “I think I saw, in the transcripts and in the testimony, shades of gray. To me, that means reasonable doubt.”
Chiakulas evaluated the evidence, considered the potential that some witnesses might have been biased and then firmly held to her ground that the government failed to prove Blagojevich guilty beyond any doubt for which a reason exists.
Washington State Pattern Jury Instruction 1.04 tells each juror: “You should not surrender your honest belief about the value or significance of evidence solely because of the opinions of your fellow jurors. Nor should you change your mind just for the purpose of reaching a verdict.” Chiakulas certainly took that instruction to heart.
I have no idea if Blagojevich was trying to sell a Senate seat, is just an idiot or both. But I do know that Chiakulas did the right thing and is was as American as it gets, right next to apple pie and the American flag. I think Chiakulas deserves a medal.
John Brangwin is a partner in the Wenatchee law firm of Woods & Brangwin.