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Michael Le Vell found not guilty but how and why does the jury reach such a verdict?

When the Michael Le Vell verdict came through this afternoon I wasn’t surprised. Not because he’s famous and famous people get off. Not because I didn’t believe the accuser. Not because I thought he looked like a good guy but I wasn’t surprised because I have been there – in the jury room on a very similar case where it came down solely to whether we believed the accuser or whether we believed the defendant and I saw how a jury swayed from what their gut instincts were to how we found the man.

You see the legal system is skewed against the defendant all the way until court where in fact the defendant who has the weight of the law on his or her side. You are instructed clearly by the judge that your gut opinion counts for nothing and that only what is said in court should influence you on your decision. So what the defendant looks like shouldn’t come into play for example. All that matters is what the witnesses tell you and what the lawyers and judges say.

In our case we saw no medical evidence and the reporting on the Le Vell case says that the judge instructed them that the medical evidence was neutral and therefore shouldn’t carry any weight either way. This meant for them as it did us – it came down not just to who we believed but did we believe the accuser to such a degree that we were confident that the accused had done the alleged crimes.

I have written about this before but we walked into the jury room and after an initial vote we were 9-3 in favour of not guilty. One of the nine was a young lady who actually didn’t care and wanted to go with the majority just so she could go home so its hard to fully gauge what she really thought – if she thought anything at all. The three guilty voters were two young men who felt that anyone accused of such a crime is probably guilty and one mother who believed that in the same situation her daughter (who was of the same age) would tell the truth and therefore she believed this girl totally and any accusation that her daughter wouldn’t tell the truth would crush her.

The impasse didn’t last long with the two young men, they agreed that following what was actually said in court (and one particular comment from the girls mother) meant that her testimony could not be taken as gospel and due to the lack of evidence bar from the accuser they changed their vote to not guilty and therefore we were 11-1 within an hour or so but we’d be deliberating for several more hours whilst the final member of the jury still equated the accuser for her daughter and how bad she would feel is people didn’t believe her daughter. She eventually was persuaded that her daughter and this girl were two different people and should be treated as such and we were unanimous and acquitted on all charges.

Obviously I was not in the Le Vell jury room but I wouldn’t be surprised if the discussion went along a similar front. It came down solely to whether the accuser was a solid enough witness to prove the case, now that is the key part of the whole thing, proving the case. The jury didn’t say that they thought the accuser was a liar, they didn’t say that she made up the allegations, they didn’t say that she embellished the truth, they didn’t say that any of the things she said happened to her didn’t happen, they simply said that her word alone wasn’t enough to confirm beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused did what he was accused of.

So to those who are asking about whether the girl will now be arrested for making up allegations then just shut up. There was no proof that she made anything up, no-one has said or even intimated that. All that has happened is a jury has decided that her word alone against the word of one other person isn’t good enough to prove a case. This happens day in, day out in court cases. When it comes to one persons word against another it is hard to convict just because as humans we find it hard to take one person who we don’t know’s word above another person we don’t know – certainly to a significant degree which ‘reasonable doubt’ makes a jury think about.

Did Michael Le Vell commit these crimes? I don’t know but I suspect the jury were in a position where it was very hard to be sure that he did and subsequently acquitted and as a society we should take that verdict as fact unless any further evidence comes out. Le Vell should be free of any stigma and allowed to get on with his life. As for the accuser she should also be allowed to get on with her life and not face any questions about whether she was telling the truth or not.

The reason our criminal justice system is setup is to make the CPS prove their case and not for the defence to prove their own. You are innocent until proven guilty and if you are not proven to be guilty then you are innocent in the eyes of the law and should be in the eyes of society as well. Being a jury member is not easy as you have a lot to weigh up but you are instructed very clearly as to what you can use to form your verdict and that ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ thing always looms large in your thought process.

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