You Have a Right to Remain Silent, But Do You Have a Choice?

Big jury trial in Madison County for the past two weeks.  School teacher Carla Hughes has been on trial for the murder of Avis Banks, the fiance of her lover, Keyon Pittman.  There have been more twists and turns in this trial than a Grisham novel, and I have exercised my right to remain silent on the matter, until now.

Today, after deliberating for only ten minutes, the jury sent out a question to the Judge, asking “Could the state have called the defendant to testify?”  The answer is absolutely not, but the question itself is very interesting.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says, plain as day, that “No person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”  The Mississippi Constitution says “In all criminal prosecutions the accused . . . shall not be compelled to give evidence against himself.”  I have no doubt the jury was instructed along these lines before they were dimissed to begin deliberating, but as the jury was probably read pages and pages of instructions by the judge, they can be forgiven for missing this one, which was probably buried somewhere in the middle.

All that a question like that does for me is to confirm my belief in the jury trial as the best process for resolving conflict in this country.  Apparently the facts in the Hughes case are so close that the jury felt a compelling need to hear from the Defendant before reaching a verdict.  They needed to either hear the Defendant confidently and sincerely state that she didn’t do it, or they needed to witness her screwing up so bad on the witness stand that their decision to convict would be easier.  Unfortunately they are going to have to make their decision without Ms. Hughes’s testimony, or fail to reach a verdict.  It has been my experience that, even in cases where the evidence seems overwhelming, a jury of twelve people can find any number of things to think about before deciding someone’s fate.

The Hughes trial is a capital murder trial.  Ms. Hughes could be sentenced to death based on the outcome of this trial.  Now that we know that the Defendant’s testimony is obviously of great concern to this jury, imagine how important the decision was on whether or not she should take the stand.  Lots of drama in a criminal trial, and lots of important decisions to make.  In the end all we can hope for is that justice will be done.