Judge Finds Prosecution Evidence Lacking, Acquits Before Verdict
A courageous judge stood up to the government by taking a case away from the jury and acquitting the defendant after concluding that the prosecution failed to show that a lawyer who accepted cash from clients knew that the cash came from drug crimes. U.S. District Judge Joseph L. Tauro said "Anybody could wait and see what happened and hope the jury would find him not guilty, then you wouldn't have to, but that's ducking responsibility."
Prosecutors are complaining that "Tauro's actions show that federal criminal rules need to be changed so judges cannot exercise unchecked authority." Nonsense. It is a judge's duty to protect the accused from an unwarranted conviction. The trial judge, who actually hears and sees the evidence, is in the best positon to decide whether a case should go to the jury. The power to acquit before verdict, while rarely invoked, is a vital protection against verdicts that may be based on sympathy or outrage rather than evidence.
"It's rare, I suppose because in most cases the government at least comes up with enough evidence, arguably, to go to the jury and then it's the jury that decides," [Chief U.S. District Judge William] Young said. "But sometimes they don't, and in those cases Rule 29 exists for the protection of the individual and properly so."
Prof. Douglas Berman wonders whether Judge Tauro may have been motivated, in part, by a desire to avoid the harsh and unjust sentence that might have been mandated by a conviction. Perhaps. In any event, the judge deserves praise for protecting an accused from an overreaching prosecution.
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