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We, the jury, change our mind

A jury can change its mind and find someone not guilty of a crime even after they've found him guilty of it, the Virginia Court of Appeals has ruled.

Sound confusing? As in many states, Virginia has a bifurcated trial process. That's just a fancy way of saying "two parts." The first part is the guilt or innocence phase; if the jury finds a person guilty, they move to a second stage, in which they hear more evidence and decide on a sentence.

During a trial in Stafford County Circuit Court last year, a jury convicted Daniel Chinua Weeks of conspiracy to commit grand larceny. Then, during its deliberations on his sentence, the jury decided that Weeks hadn't actually committed grand larceny, which requires a theft of more than $200 worth of property.

They sent a series of six notes to Judge John R. Alderman, saying “Can we change the verdict on the larceny charge?” and “We are concerned about doing our civic duty in fairness to this young man.”

Alderman repeatedly responded with notes telling them to sentence Weeks, which they finally did. Alderman then rejected a defense motion to set aside the conspiracy conviction, and Weeks appealed.

The appeals court found that as long as the trial is still going, whether in the first or second part, “the jury retains the power to revisit its guilty verdict.” If the jury had been discharged, then that would be a different matter.

The court noted that the conspiracy charge didn’t require proof of the actual act of grand larceny, only an agreement among people to commit it, and that “the jurors were more confused than they even knew.”

But confused or not, they were within their rights to reverse themselves, Appeals Court Judge D. Arthur Kelsey wrote on Nov. 10.

The case was sent back to Stafford for a new trial.

--Tom Jackman

By Tom Jackman  |  November 19, 2009; 1:15 PM ET
Categories:  From the Courthouse , Stafford , Tom Jackman , Virginia  
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