Bill Cosby Trial, Day 10 — Jury, Still Deadlocked, Asks Judge, ‘What Is Reasonable Doubt?’
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On Friday the Bill Cosby sexual assault trial in Norristown, Pennsylvania, entered its 10th day overall, day five of jury deliberations, with a verdict still nowhere in sight. Cosby has been charged with three counts of felony aggravated indecent assault against Andrea Constand in 2004, with each count carrying a sentence of up to 10 years in prison if Cosby is found guilty.
The jury did, however, send a pair of intriguing requests to Judge Steven O’Neill.
The first was for the precise legal meaning of “reasonable doubt,” which Judge O’Neill said was a good sign. “Your question does indicate that you are deliberating,” he said, perhaps implying that jurors are getting closer to breaking their deadlock.
A former Pennsylvania prosecutor, Dennis McAndrews, told NBC that the reasonable-doubt question leans “pro-prosecution,” supporting the idea that a verdict may be coming, rather than a hung jury. “They’re down to the very nitty-gritty,” McAndrews said, “what doubt is reasonable and what doubt is fanciful.”
Here is how the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Pennsylvania, describes “reasonable doubt” to jurors:
In order for you to find [name] guilty of the offense(s) charged, the government must convince you that [name] is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That means that the government must prove each and every element of the offense(s) charged beyond a reasonable doubt. A defendant may not be convicted based on suspicion or conjecture, but only on evidence proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean proof beyond all possible doubt or to a mathematical certainty. Possible doubts or doubts based on conjecture, speculation, or hunch are not reasonable doubts. A reasonable doubt is a fair doubt based on reason, logic, common sense, or experience. It is a doubt that an ordinary reasonable person has after carefully weighing all of the evidence, and is a doubt of the sort that would cause him or her to hesitate to act in matters of importance in his or her own life. It may arise from the evidence, or from the lack of evidence, or from the nature of the evidence.
If, having now heard all the evidence, you are convinced that the government proved each and every element of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt, you should return a verdict of guilty for that offense. However, if you have a reasonable doubt about one or more of the elements of the offense charged, then you must return a verdict of not guilty of that offense.
The jury has been deliberating for more than 40 hours now, and over that time the defense has asked for a mistrial four times. Judge O’Neill has rejected these requests. “In a case of this size, this magnitude, this length, as long as this jury wishes to continue to deliberate, I will let them deliberate,” O’Neill said from the bench.
The other request jurors sent to the judge was to have parts of Cosby’s 2005 deposition (from a civil lawsuit Constand filed) re-read back to them. The section in question covered Cosby’s acquisition of seven quaaludes prescriptions, which Cosby has admitted to using in order to pursue sex with younger women.
Constand says Cosby gave her a number of pills — she claims it was three; he says he only gave her one-and-a-half Benadryls — which knocked her unconscious and incapable of resisting his sexual advances.
If the jury, made up of five women and seven men, remains deadlocked and unable to reach a unanimous decision, Judge O’Neill would be forced to declare a mistrial. Cosby could be re-tried with a different jury at a later date, but that would still be a favorable decision for Cosby’s team (though obviously not as favorable as an acquittal).
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