Former Alabama governor Don Siegelman was convicted of various offenses committed during his governorship of Alabama. His case achieved notoriety beyond Alabama because of allegations that the prosecution of the governor was motivated and perhaps engineered from Karl Rove’s White House office. Siegelman’s case has already made one trip to the United States Supreme Court which sent it back to the Circuit Court. That court recently affirmed – again – the conviction.
That court, in affirming, explained the role of judges and juries in our system with some eloquence. Here is what the judges said:
But [the case] has arrived in this court with the “sword and buckler” of a jury verdict. The yeoman’s work of our judicial system is done by a single judge and a jury. Twelve ordinary citizens of Alabama were asked to sit through long days of often tedious and obscure testimony and pour over countless documents to decide what happened, and, having done so, to apply to these facts the law as the judge has explained it to them. And they do. [sic.] Often at great personal sacrifice. Though the popular culture sometimes asserts otherwise, the virtue of our jury system is that it most often gets it right. This is the great achievement of our system of justice. The jury’s verdict commands the respect of this court, and that verdict must be sustained if there is substantial evidence to support it. Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60, 80 (1942).
Furthermore, to the extent that the verdict rests upon the jury’s evaluations of the credibility of individual witnesses, and the reasonable inferences to be drawn from that testimony, we owe deference to those decisions. In our system, the jury decides what the facts are, by listening to the witnesses and making judgments about whom to believe. This they have done, and, though invited to do so, we shall not substitute our judgment for theirs.
That is as good a summary of the role of juries in our judicial system as I’ve seen for a while.