Seth Cousins was a juror in the Roger Stone trial.
Stone received a fair trial. But events since his trial threaten to undermine the equal administration of justice.
In November, I joined 13 of my fellow citizens as jurors and alternates in the case of United States v. Roger Stone. After several days of testimony and argument — and eight hours of deliberation — we returned guilty verdicts on all seven charges of obstruction, witness tampering and lying to Congress. Federal prosecutors recommended on Feb. 10 that Stone be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison. Early the next day, President Trump tweeted his outrage, and soon the Justice Department announced that the sentencing recommendation would be amended. All four prosecutors handling the case withdrew in protest.
Our foreperson wrote in support of the prosecutors on her personal Facebook page, revealing that she had been on the jury and was its foreperson. Since then, she has been attacked, including by the president, as though she was personally responsible that Stone had been found guilty and that the verdict was thus unfair. The president and others have called the trial and sentencing decision a “miscarriage of justice.” Amid the onslaught of criticism of a U.S. citizen who fulfilled her civic duty as a juror and exercised her First Amendment right to free expression, Stone has used the manufactured controversy to demand a mistrial on the basis of jury misconduct and even to demand that the judge recuse herself for bias in favor of the jury.
These events raise serious concerns for me not merely as a juror in the trial but also for the threat to our bedrock principles.
Elected officials have no business attacking citizens for performing their civic duty. The jury system is rooted in English common law and enshrined in both Article III and the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution; it is fundamental to the American system of justice. All of us need to be concerned when this process is attacked. More than 1.5 million Americans are impaneled on juries every year, according to the National Center for State Courts. Federal service is more rare than state-level service, but a 2007 center report found that more than a third of Americans will serve on a jury at some point in their lifetimes. Jurors are not merely expected but required to judge facts fairly. We are required to disclose any potential bias and are asked whether that potential bias would prevent us from rendering an impartial verdict.
It is true, of course, that this country has not always succeeded in impaneling impartial juries, and some segments of the population continue to face biased processes. The goal of equal justice makes the Stone situation all the more troubling.
When the president attacks our jury’s foreperson, he is effectively attacking every American who takes time off work, arranges child care and otherwise disrupts their life temporarily to participate in this civic duty. His attacks denigrate both our service and the concept of equal justice under U.S. law.
There is no factual basis to say that the Stone jury was tainted or otherwise biased against the defendant. We conducted ourselves exactly as juries are supposed to. We looked at each element of every charge in isolation. We examined the evidence. We attempted to construct alternative explanations. We discussed each charge and conducted secret ballots and voice polls. We went around the room to ensure that quieter jurors were heard. As individuals, we did not vote guilty until we were convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. As a group, we did not return a verdict until we had reached a unanimous decision.
Our foreperson oversaw a rigorous process, slowing us down on several occasions and advocating for the rights of the defendant.
Roger Stone received a fair trial. He was found guilty based on the evidence by a jury that respected his rights and viewed the government’s claims skeptically. Our jury valued truth, plain and simple. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson echoed this sentiment last week while sentencing Stone: “The truth still exists; the truth still matters.”