What the Jury Didn’t Know: Jurors Are Now Pleading for Leniency In the Sentencing of Cecily McMillan

what the jury didn't know: cecily mcmillan

It would be an understatement—and a gross one, at that—to say that the average American jury is always presented with both sides of a case in a fair and balanced manner. Justice, as we all know, is anything but blind, but it frequently wears blinders. And in the case of Cecily McMillan, the Occupy Wall Street activist who was just found guilty of felony assault, the blinders put on the jury by the prosecutorial team, which went after McMillan with a zeal ordinarily reserved for cop killers, and the judge, who rejected much of the defense team’s evidence, led to a verdict which was almost immediately regretted by many of the jurors.

Via the Guardian, nine of the jurors on the McMillan trial wrote a letter to the judge pleasing for leniency in McMillan’s sentencing. The jurors suggest “probation with community service” as a reasonable alternative to the potential seven years in prison that McMillan could wind up serving. The jurors feel that “it serves no purpose to Cecily or to society to incarcerate her for any amount of time.” It’s impossible to say whether or not Judge Ronald Zweibel, who was clearly biased toward the prosecution will be influenced at all by such a letter, but it is at least commendable that the jurors made the effort, even if it is probably too little, too late.

This letter also serves to demonstrate one more problem with the American justice system, namely, how ill-prepared many jurors are to be making what amount to life-and-death decisions, and how much that benefits those already in power. Even beyond this plea for leniency, some of McMillan’s jurors have spoken up about the pressure to come to a quick, unanimous decision, leading them to vote with the majority even at the expense of what they felt was the truth. Contrary to popular culture, juries are not peopled by the cast of Twelve Angry Men, and are instead made up of men and women who, because they are actively willing to participate in our judicial system, are already predisposed to believe that the system actually works. In a case like McMillan’s, where the system and those in power were the problem, this will almost inevitably lead to a failure of justice, because in order for the jurors to deny the legitimacy of a police officer’s behavior, they would be implicitly denying their own legitimacy, and that of the judge and prosecutor as well. So of course the jury in McMillan’s case didn’t quite know what to do—they’d put their faith and invested their time in a system that only wanted to protect its own strength, even at the cost of a young woman’s future. What the jurors didn’t know was just how rigged the trial was, and that they were nothing more than bit players in a fixed game.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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