Club Soda and Salt

No more stains

The Trinidad Express makes Baby Jesus cry

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on March 24, 2010

So there’s been this debate raging on in Trinidad about whether the trial-by-jury system should be replaced with verdicts from judges. I don’t really want to get into that debate (I happen to think that trial by judge is not a great idea, but I can understand the concerns about jury tampering in a place like Trinidad). I DO want to comment on how atrocious this article (click here to read in a format that won’t make your eyes bleed) is. First off, the article starts off as follows:

During the 2005 law term, State prosecutors brought almost two hundreds criminal cases to the High Court for trial.

In only one in five cases did the jury return a guilty verdict. And the jury acquitted in forty percent of the trials, according to the statistics in the Judiciary’s annual report tracking the state of the justice system.

OK, this is actually a really interesting start to an article! So. If 20% of trials ended with a guilty verdict, and 40% with a not guilty one, does that mean that 40% of trials ended unresolved? Were there that many hung juries? That seems like so many! Is it actually a high number, or is that normal? Were the other 40% of trials just not ended in 2005? And are these numbers actually any “worse” than usual? Do we know about comparable percentages from the past? Or from other countries? What about in places with trial-by-judge?

You will be shocked to hear that none of these questions is ever answered (or even asked), and that we never hear about these statistics ever again. I feel uninformed.

Then we get a lot of anecdotal “evidence” with some examples of judges being upset with jury verdicts. I’m sure judges have a lot to say about this issue, and their opinions are obviously valuable, but instead of giving me that, I just get these random stories of one time they were vex. In fact, it’s only really one story that’s discussed, and it’s not even presented well:

’Members [of the jury]’, Justice Narine said, ’I mean no disrespect. I feel compelled to say that this system of justice is not working and it frightens me. It worries me as it should everyone else in this country.”

He had presided in a case in which the nine-member jury took only 20 minutes to find a man not guilty of kidnapping a 16-year-old girl in 2002.

OK. Presumably we are about to hear some details of the trial, so that we can be shocked at how stupid the jurors were! I’m looking forward to being presented with information that I can use to draw a conclusion.

The teenager said she had to jump out a window to escape the man when he took her to a lonely road in Penal. The man’s defence was that the two were friends.


OK. Well, this seems very he-said, she-said. Was there any evidence about their prior relationship? How did she end up in his car (I assume we’re talking about a car window, though that of course is left to guesswork)? Were there signs of a struggle? Anything else I should consider? We’ll never know, because this is the Express we’re talking about. Instead of anything related to what was presented at trial, we get a repitition of the comments from the judge, and then a comment about a completely unrelated case (I didn’t realize at first that this was about a different case, because it is an offhand mention in the middle of the other discussion):

Justice Narine also referred to ’one of the strongest cases I have ever seen, it was a sexual offences case’ where the accused also went home.

He said the accused had been served a sentence for murder, granted a pardon by the President, acquitted on the rape charge and rearrested two months later for murder.

I don’t really know what this is supposed to prove, partly because all the relevant detail is missing. OK, so he was convicted of murder. He was imprisoned to await execution (murder, and I’m assuming that they got the actual charge correct, carries a mandatory death sentence in Trinidad), and then pardoned. Why was he pardoned? It’s not like presidential pardons are terribly common for convicted murderers! The Express feels no need to ask. So, then he goes on trial for rape. I guess the fact that he was convicted of murder was supposed to mean that he was DEFINITELY guilty of a different crime, even though he’d been pardoned? What kind of logic is that? And of course we hear nothing about the rape trial itself, so we have no way of knowing what the jury in question had presented to it, which is of course crucial to the whole debate. And THEN we hear that he was “re-arrested” for murder, but of course we have no idea whether he was convicted, or even went to trial. Seriously, WTF? All this example did was leave me with major doubts about whether judges, especially this one, are equipped to decide verdicts, forget about juries.

Then we hear from the foreman of the jury in the first trial, who basically complains a lot about how his feelings were hurt – irrelevant – but does say this one thing:


The foreman said it was a jury of six women and three men and ’we believe our verdict was truthful. Yes we delivered a verdict in 25 minutes but we were discussing it during the trial, for three days, the problems we had, the doubts in our minds’.

At this point, you will be shocked to hear that details on the doubts appear nowhere in the rest of the article. Which is truly amazing, because the foreman DID EXPLAIN THE DOUBTS:

The juror went through the evidence, and pointed to the prosecution’s weaknesses.

WTF? So this guy explains the jury’s reasoning to you, the reasoning that is at the root of the story you’ve built the article around, but you leave it out?

God, the Express is awful.

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