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Judge to Manafort jury: Keep deliberating

After jurors in the Paul Manafort trial asked what would happen if they can't reach a consensus on one of the 18 counts Manafort is charged with, Judge T.S. Ellis told them to keep working.

Posted: Aug 22, 2018 2:10 AM
Updated: Aug 22, 2018 2:32 AM

The jury in former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's trial is now in its fourth day of deliberations. Conventional wisdom would tell you that the longer the jury goes on without a decision, the better it is for Manafort.

That's certainly the idea being pushed by Manafort's side. Following the decision of the judge to send the jury home without a verdict on Monday night, Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing said this: "Mr. Manafort's very happy to hear that, and this was a very good day."

On its face, the logic here makes sense. If it was such an open-and-shut case, the jury would have come back with a guilty verdict on the first -- or, at the latest, second day -- of deliberations, right?

Wrong. Or, at least, very likely wrong.

While we non-lawyers have learned from the police prodecurals that flood our TV airwaves that extended jury deliberations signal some sort of deep divide within the jury that is always a good thing for the defense, actual lawyers -- like CNN's legal analyst Laura Coates -- see something far different at work in the extended deliberations.

And what they see is a deeply complex case, involving 18 charges of a variety of financial crimes that saw more than two dozen witnesses for the prosecution testify over 10 days.

"Since each charge has normally four or more elements, you can surmise that a jury of 12 would have to agree not to just 18 charges," explained Coates. "They have to agree that the government proved 72 things."

Which, if you think about it, nicely explains why the Manafort jury a) isn't done yet and b) isn't necessarily deeply divided about whether Manafort is guilty or not guilty of the charges against him.

Think of it this way. In a murder trial, the jury is tasked, typically, with answering just a simple question: Did he do it or not? While the stakes are incredibly high -- a murder conviction could mean anything from life in prison to the death penalty -- the question being asked of the jury is totally straightforward. Either the evidence presented proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the murder or it doesn't.

That's not at all the case here. Not only does the jury have to consider each and every charge, they also have to consider whether Manafort did it with malice or knowingly -- and whether the government proved he did so beyond any reasonable doubt. And they have to do it unanimously. (On Tuesday morning, the jury sent a note to the judge, asking what would happen if it can't reach consensus on one of the 18 counts it is deliberating. The judge responded that it is the jurors' duty to agree upon a verdict "if you can do so," without violating their own convictions.)

What the Manafort trial should remind us is that life is not like "Law and Order." Not every case is clear-cut. Not every defendant provides the smoking gun halfway through the trial. And not every jury renders a verdict just before the end of the hour.

This is an extremely complicated case -- in both subject matter and the charges being leveled at Manafort. Which is why no one should bemoan the time the jury is taking or draw any conclusions about what the time they are taking means for Manafort's chances of getting off.

Republican consultant Dan Hazelwood put that idea nicely on Twitter Monday night. "People declaring a theoretical verdict in the Manafort case as the sign of something evil being done make me ill," Hazelwood tweeted. "It looks like 12 citizens are being methodical and responsible to their civic duty. This is how the system works, stop attacking it."

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