Guilt and innocence are no simple binary. This is never more true than when the harsh and unnecessary vagaries of minimum sentencing guidelines, which haunt the US criminal justice system, are introduced.
I wrote on Monday about the disgraceful guilty verdict handed down to Occupy activist and student Cecily McMillan. The 25-year-old was convicted of second-degree felony assault on an officer; the cop in question had grabbed her breast from behind on March 17, 2012 — leaving visible bruises — and prompting the activist to swing round instinctively, knocking the officer's head with her elbow.
A jury found McMillan guilty of assault, but their decision was predicated — as the Guardian reported Tuesday — on a complete, and legally enforced, lack of knowledge of the potential punishment awaiting the defendant. McMillan faces a sentence of between two to seven years. On learning this fact, jurors have responded with shock. Such is the upshot of a judiciary logic stacked against the defendant and mired in obfuscation.
As Jon Swaine reported for the Guardian:
Finally freed from a ban on researching the case, including potential punishments, some were shocked to learn that they had just consigned the 25-year-old to a sentence of up to seven years in prison, one told the Guardian. “They felt bad,” said the juror, who did not wish to be named. “Most just wanted her to do probation, maybe some community service. But now what I’m hearing is seven years in jail? That’s ludicrous. Even a year in jail is ridiculous.”
The very fact of McMillan's guilt is problematic. The fact that she was assaulted by a cop, then dragged through a dramatic two-year legal process, was problematic enough. And now even her jurors see her punishment as unjust.
Follow Natasha Lennard on Twitter: @natashalennard
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Image sketched by Molly Crabapple