Oh, my friends, the trial I’ve been sitting on for the past month is finally over. If you are not an American, our justice system probably seems weird and opaque to you. It often seems that way to me and I am an American.
The trial for which I was on the jury was one of several that arose from a giant crackdown on immigration fraud in New York. The FBI closed a number of firms and at least thirty people ended up being charged with immigration fraud and conspiracy to commit immigration fraud. Our trial was for three of them: Feng Ling Liu, Vanessa Bandrich, and Rachel Yang.
There are several things to read about the case if you’re interested in such things:
- The original FBI press release
- March 14 update from the FBI saying, in part:
“To date, 30 defendants have been charged with participating in nine separate but overlapping immigration fraud schemes in New York City, including eight lawyers. Twenty-five of these defendants have been convicted for their roles in these schemes.”
- A piece from the NY Times describing the process of getting asylum, especially faked asylum, along with some of the people involved
- A piece from a local Chinatown newspaper (which says all 26 are lawyers, which they are not, but is otherwise mostly correct)
- The actual indictment that led to the trial I sat on the jury for (apparently at some point after that indictment, they split the defendants up since we only had three).
You might think, reading these stories and this information that the case was straightfoward. It was not.
We had three separate defendants, two of whom were lawyers. Each of the defendants had lawyers. There were three AUSAs (Assistant U.S. Attorneys). There was endless testimony, but most of it came from people who were working under cooperation agreements with the government in the hope of getting a better deal…meaning that they were all criminals themselves.
This led to a lot of credibility questions. A lot of credibility questions. In fact, we ended up discounting certain witness testimony entirely. They don’t show you that on TV.
And then there’s the question of “reasonable doubt.” Just what is reasonable? How far down the rabbit hole do you have to go trying to prove someone isn’t guilty before it’s unreasonable? If someone deliberately puts on blinders so they can’t see that they’re part of a criminal enterprise, does that excuse them? Do you believe the blinders are big enough that they really don’t know what’s going on, or do you think they’re posing as someone who doesn’t know?
Also, our case wasn’t a case of fraud per se, it was a case of conspiracy to commit fraud. That’s different. The requirements are different. And while I wouldn’t consider one of our defendants guilty of fraud, there’s no doubt in my mind that under the law she is guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud. And that hurts, because I really, really hope in sentencing that she gets a big old break. (I thinks she will–looking at some of the other cases already through sentencing, etc, I think she’ll be okay.)
After a three week trial, we started deliberations on Friday. One defendant was easy–the evidence was overwhelming. The second defendant we discussed was damned near impossible. There were tears. There was yelling. There were fingers pointed and fingers wagged. So we tabled her and moved on. For the third defendant there were more tears, but the evidence was conclusive and so, given the law, there was no way around the verdict.
But at the end of the day on Friday, we still hadn’t made any decision about defendant #2. Was she a dupe? How big were her blinders? What kind of role did she play?
The weekend break was necessary for all of us. Emotions were running very, very high at the end of Friday, but by the time we came back today, we were all calmer and readier to get back to work. We sifted through all the evidence we had, including plenty of things that didn’t get touched on in the trial itself. They’d sent us recordings and transcripts that we’d covered only partially in the courtroom, but we listened to them all. We read them all. We read the definition of conspiracy over and over and over. And we decided.
It was not easy. It shouldn’t be easy. You are making decisions about someone else’s life, which is why you have to be sure in your heart as well as in your mind that you are making the right decision.
I wouldn’t want to do it again, but now that it’s over, I’m glad I did.