As Ed noted on Tuesday, the defense team in the Paul Manafort case chose to rest without presenting any witnesses. Legal blogger Popehat argued the wisdom of this approach was that it put the burden of proof squarely on the prosecution:
/2 Remember it’s the prosecution’s burden to prove things beyond a reasonable doubt. When the defense puts on a case, there’s always a subtle tendency for the jury to start putting a burden on the defense, which you don’t want.https://t.co/dInKgnq8kz
— ProveItHat (@Popehat) August 14, 2018
There some indication today that the defense strategy may have paid off. The Washington Post reports that at the end of the first day of deliberations, jurors had four questions for the judge. One of those questions was about reasonable doubt:
They asked if the judge could “redefine reasonable doubt.” Jurors sometimes struggle with what constitutes a reasonable doubt of someone’s guilt, versus an unreasonable doubt. The judge told them reasonable doubt “is a doubt based on reason,” but added: “The government is not required to prove guilt beyond all possible doubt.”
Defense attorneys emphasized in their closing argument that it’s not enough to believe a defendant is “likely” guilty or even “highly likely” guilty, using a thermometer chart to make the point.
Fox News reports that Manafort’s defense attorney pointed to that question as a good sign:
Before court was adjourned on Thursday afternoon, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III announced that jurors would continue their work on Friday morning.
Ellis read aloud a note detailing four questions from the jury, which covered foreign financial accounts, shell companies, the definition of reasonable doubt and other evidence in the case.
Outside court on Thursday, Manafort’s defense attorney, Kevin Downing, called the questions from the jury — especially the one about reasonable doubt — a “good sign.”
“So, overall a very good day for Mr. Manafort,” Downing told reporters.
Manafort is facing 18 different charges in this case, so it’s not as if the jury is going to be forced to go all or nothing here. They could decide that prosecutors hadn’t proven their case on several of the charges and still deliver a verdict that could put Manafort in jail for a long time. The fact that their three other questions dealt with specifics of some of those other charges seems to indicate that they are looking at them individually and in detail. Still, it could signal they aren’t convinced about all of the charges.
From the outset, the judge in has refused to allow any talk about Mueller’s broader Russia investigation. The idea was to keep jurors focused on the facts, not the politics surrounding the case. But there’s no doubt that the verdict in this case will be judged in terms of politics. If Mueller comes up short here it’s going to be treated as a more general failure of his investigation. We could know how it plays out as soon as tomorrow.
Update: Here’s the type of chart the defense used in closing:
Manafort defense team had used a chart (kind of like this) to emphasize how high of a burden reasonable doubt is, so it makes sense that jurors might want some clarity from the judge. Defense told jurors to “hold the government to its burden.” pic.twitter.com/Y4XjEbmhYU
— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) August 16, 2018