Judicial errors

first_imgWHILE America focuses attention back to that infamous episode of celebrity justice in 1995 – the O.J. Simpson verdict – another one seems to be in the making: the Phil Spector trial. The way these bungled proceedings are going, it seems likely that Spector – like Simpson and Robert Blake before him – will end up walking. But, hey, big bucks can buy you the best legal representation. In this case, it seems, it can buy you lawyers who can outmaneuver the judge. And that can make all the difference. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler admits he has made two serious mistakes in this trial. The first was allowing jurors to consider only charges of second-degree murder – and not also the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter – against Spector. When jurors returned with no verdict after 28 hours of negotiations on Tuesday, Fidler briefly considered giving them the manslaughter option. But on Wednesday, he decided against it, reasoning that it would be unfair to change the rules after the trial is over. On that score, he’s right. But the failure to present the manslaughter option from the beginning could well lead to Spector’s acquittal, or at least a deadlocked jury. Worse, though, was Fidler’s agreeing to a provision in the juror instructions – sought by defense attorneys over the objection of prosecutors – that set an unreasonably high bar for finding Spector guilty on the murder charge. When members of the jury were polled, several cited this instruction – which Fidler now says “misstates the law ” – as a reason for their division. Now Fidler plans to send the jury back into deliberations with new, less onerous instructions. But the damage may already be done. Even if the jury does vote to convict, Fidler seems to have all but gift-wrapped the terms of an appeal for Spector’s defense team. Which is to say, no matter what happens in this case, Spector is likely to come out the winner. Either he gets acquitted, or the jury deadlocks and we get a mistrial, or he gets a conviction that’s tossed out on appeal. And even if the state gets to try Spector again, the whole process will cost millions, with no guarantee of a better result. Twelve years after O.J., it’s the same old celebrity justice.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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