4

We often hear politicians-- and U.S. presidents especially-- being criticized for weighing in on criminal cases on the grounds that their comments could prejudice a jury. Most recently Joe Biden and Rep. Maxine Waters were criticized for premature comments calling for a guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial. The Chauvin defense raised Waters' comments in particular as an objection, and although it was unsuccessful, the judge suggested it could be raised on appeal. Another classic example would be the defense team for Charles Manson pushing for a mistrial because Nixon declared him guilty.

My question is: has there ever been a case of a politician's improper statements actually leading to a major setback for the prosecution? What I'm looking for is not examples like the Manson or Chauvin trial where the extent of the setback was unsuccessful defense motions that caused the prosecution a bit of a headache. I'm looking more for examples where the the comments led to some sort of tangible win for the defense, be it a mistrial, dropped charges, reduced sentence, thrown out evidence... etc.

6
  • 3
    I don’t see the politics aspect of this, aside from the fact that it mentions politicians. The issue here is one of law, and has nothing to do with political questions – divibisan Apr 21 at 0:47
  • 1
    @divibisan I'll defer to the community, but I think it's political because it's essentially a question of whether a frequent political attack has any actual validity to it. It's more about historical examples (or possible lack thereof) than any actual question of law. – TenthJustice Apr 21 at 1:13
  • 6
    @divibisan, I see this as a question on political influence on the justice system, which is politics. – o.m. Apr 21 at 5:45
  • Joe Biden can't really do anything to the jurors, so even if it was an attempt at influence, it sure wasn't tampering, which is the actual thing that would pose an actual problem to trial continuation. – dandavis Apr 21 at 18:12
  • 1
    @dandavis I stand to defer. While politicians can't do anything directly to the jurors, their statement seems to arouse their voter base, and bring up social pressures that can be felt by the jurors, thus pressured into an unjust decision. If that wasn't an act of tempering, then I don't know what it is. – r13 Apr 21 at 20:19
3

Without diving into court statistics, the answer is: probably, though it's impossible to be sure. What Biden was trying to avoid by waiting to comment on the case was the appearance of unduly influencing the jury and not without good reason.

External influences on jurors during a trial is a major issue for criminal trials, one jurisprudence considers grounds for a mistrial. This is why juries are sequestered in the first place, and sometimes even before deliberation. What's more, it's why there exists a type of motion to move a trial to a different venue - because the assumption is that it is impossible to get a fair trial in the venue that has jurisdiction.

It's axiomatic in political science that the Office of the President is a "bully pulpit," which means "a damned fine place to speak from so that people hear and heed what you have to say." Credit to Teddy Roosevelt for the term.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with the principles in play, from a strategic perspective Biden's abundance of caution here both avoids the appearance of political impropriety and abuse of his position - a major campaigning point for him against Trump - AND avoids giving Chauvin's defense team ammunition for the inevitable appeals and motions to declare a mistrial that will now follow.

3
  • 1
    This seems to be an extended comment (on Biden's actions) rather than an answer on the actual question, which asked for specific examples where politicians' statements were taken into account by the justice system in e.g. invalidating a trial. And your answer with "probably" is backed by zero evidence. And by evidence here I mean something that a court said, not your hunch(es). – Fizz Apr 22 at 10:59
  • Here's a link to an article that discusses the legal standards involved in finding jury was influenced eu.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2021/04/21/… Among the issues: "without statements from jurors saying they were influenced by coverage of the trial or could not vote to acquit out of fear of the consequences, the argument is unlikely to succeed [in court]." – Fizz Apr 22 at 11:05
  • @Fizz The original question specifically names Biden (and by implication, Biden's conduct) as an inspiration for the question. I was simply using the behavior used as part of the question as context for my answer. If I were to expand my answer, I'd get into Spiro Agnew and Nixon's comments to the press, but that's a whole book unto itself. The question wasn't "would a claim succeed in court" the question was "has this ever impacted a prosecution?" To which my answer is: Ever? Likely. Provable? Of course not. I don't see how this doesn't answer the question. – William Walker III Apr 22 at 13:12

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .