Juror Instructions Masked as Questions in Frederick Case

Wavy 10 has posted copies of the Juror Questionnaires requested by the Prosecution and the Defense in the Ryan Frederick case.

Reading these questions I would have to wonder why a judge would allow many of them, as they appear to be legal instruction masked as questions.  It is the judge’s prerogative to instruct the jury as to the law.

Some of the questions lend themselves to comedy:

14. Is there anyone who feels any ill will or animosity for any reason against police officers or your government?

While I have no animosity toward police officers, anyone who, in today’s world, has no ill will toward government has not been paying attention.

But as the questions progress, they become more manipulative and misleading.

22. Is there anyone on the panel who believes that a person should be permitted to kill a police officer who is performing his official duty at the direction of a judicial officer?

Leaving out the word ‘knowingly’ changes the whole meaning. Of course, no one believes it is OK to intentionally kill a police officer exercising his duty, so asking the questions serves no purpose except to implant the notion that it is an all or nothing situation, that it is criminal whether you know it is a policeman or not.

23. Is there anyone on the panel who believes that the defendant or anyone else should be allowed to kill another when they do not have a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm?

Again, no one will answer that it is OK to kill people who are not placing you in peril. I previously examined Virginia law on self defense in the article Defending Your Home in Virginia. Asking the question serves no purpose other than to imply that was not the case, especially when combined with the next question.

24.Is there anyone who believes that a homeowner should ever be excused for killing someone who has not entered his home and has not put the homeowner in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm?

Note that in this question, the two criteria, entering the home and reasonable fear, are linked as though they are the same thing, or at least linked. There is no legal or logical connection between the two beyond the obvious presumption that someone who has forcibly entered your home, knowing you are inside, intends to do you harm.

The other side of the coin DOES NOT follow. A person still outside the home can certainly place you in reasonable fear of your life. Crossing the threshold does not make any legal difference regarding self defense so long as the fear of harm is reasonable. The question serves no purpose other than to introduce the false concept that being outside makes a difference.

The logical absurdity is easily illustrated by considering a threatening person standing in your front yard with a Molotov Cocktail in his hand. He does not have to enter your home to be a threat.

Case law on self defense is quite clear. You can use deadly force to defend yourself if you reasonably believe someone is placing you in peril even if that fear later proves to have been mistaken and these last three questions are clearly intended to direct the jurors to believe otherwise, and not to unveil any hidden prejudice on their part.

It is the judge’s job to explain the law, and the prosecutor is clearly using these questions to implant false legal theory in the juror’s minds before the judge tells them otherwise.

Our legal system is adversarial, but it is not symmetrical. The Defense Counsel’s job is to represent the interests of his client and the Prosecution’s job is to represent the interests of the people. While the Defense has a duty to try to win his case whether his client is guilty or not, there is no public interest in convicting the defendant if he is not guilty. Prosecutor Ebert seems to have forgotten that, and is using the questions to attempt to secure a conviction by misleading the jury on the nature of the right of self defense.

I have taken some time off work to attend the trial next week, but if it drags on into the following week, I will have to rely on news reports beyond that point.  I will report as things develop.

However this trial comes out, it will be time for us to demand of Chesapeake a full and public review of police procedures regarding serving of Search Warrants lest something like this happen again.


6 Responses to Juror Instructions Masked as Questions in Frederick Case

  1. cargosquid says:

    The Prosecutor’s questions are horrible. Since they can’t “lead” the witnesses, they are trying to lead the jury. I hope that they actually get intelligent persons that can think critically.

    I’m just wondering which story by the police is the judge going to allow? I hope the defense lawyer is good. This case is so political. If the prosecutor wins, expect ot see him run for another office…..

  2. Reid Greenmun says:

    Wow, those prosecuter questions are sure lacking specificity and far to vague – so as to disqualify reasonable people. It’s kind of like a push poll in politics. The questions do not seem to ethical or unbiased.

  3. Sailorcurt says:

    With these questions, it it going to take a long time to seat a jury as there are no caves in Chesapeake for people to have been hiding in this last year.

    That’s the point: The prosecutor wants a change of venue, so if he can somehow prevent them from being able to seat a jury, he wins.

    That was the caveat of the denial of his change of venue motion: The judge stipulated that they should re-submit the motion should they be unable to seat an impartial jury. Now it’s just a matter of interpretation as to whether the jury can be impartial in spite of the publicity that this case has garnered.

    The prosecutions questions along those lines were specifically designed to imply that the jurors cannot be impartial and give weight to his desperate need to get this trial moved to a friendlier location.

  4. John Wilburn says:

    Sailorcurt – Your point is well taken, but if the trial is moved elsewhere, the other municipality may find Mr. Frederick not guilty – this would open the door for MAJOR civil and criminal suits to be filed against the CPD and City of Chesapeake, by Mr. Frederick, and Detective Shivers’ widow. I don’t think that anyone who works for the City of Chesapeake (most notably Judge Arrington) wants the fate of the CPD and Chesapeake city government to be placed in the hands of another city…

    The smartest thing that Mr. Ebert can do is drop the charges, and let Mr. Frederick go. If there is no trial, the culpability of the CPD will not be a matter of public record, and Chesapeake may be able to weasel its way out of this (throw a few bucks at Mr. Frederick & Mrs. Shivers, to attenuate their righteous wrath…).

    Unfortunately, Mr. Ebert is not that smart…

  5. A Mind says:

    wow, I would have been bounced by the Attorney’s. I have problems with 75% of those questions.

    I didnt think they could ask if you had ill will twoards police or the government.

    Are they trying to get Right wing Bible thumpers who can’t operate a PC or a MAC?

  6. supercat says:

    wow, I would have been bounced by the Attorney’s. I have problems with 75% of those questions.

    I probably would answer as the prosecutor would like, recognizing that the questions contain some nice loopholes. For example, any police officer who is conducting an unreasonable search or seizure is not carrying out his official duties (the Supreme Law of the Land explicitly forbids unreasonable searches and seizures, thus they are by definition illegitimate). Burglars who break into a dwelling that they know to be occupied, in a fashion that they know will get the attention of the occupants, can be presumed to intend harm to the occupants of that dwelling.

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