Dear Mr. Page,
As a criminal defense attorney in Kane County for thirteen years (plus two preceding that exclusively in DuPage County), I read with interest your Sunday Chronicle Article entitled “Experts say TV tainting court cases.” May I respectfully submit to you that the article should have instead been entitled: “Excuses for losing so many cases: Let’s blame the jurors!” Unfortunately, I fear that I may have read it too late (Monday night, September 9, 2002)for the case which I am currently defending, a charge of First Degree Murder. Now I know why the Assistant State’s Attorney was asking potential jurors whether they could distinguish between fact and fiction.
I looked in vain for the “experts” you consulted in the preparation of your article, and then realized: you quoted by name only a few people, Robert Berlin, First Assistant State’s Attorney, and Meg Gorecki, his boss, along with two police officers. Then I realized that you must have called them to ask why they have been losing so many jury trials lately, and it became clear to me: you made experts out of the subject matter! Very clever. However, let me be the first to tell you that the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office has been losing jury trials for many years, long before Mr. Berlin or Ms. Gorecki. The reason is simple: we have well educated, intelligent juries (some of whom have even found an occasional client of mine guilty).
Your article totally ignores the basic concept of our criminal justice system, that the defendant is presumed to be innocent of the charge against him or her and that the burden of proof of guilt lies with the State. This is not a new concept. Juries in Kane County have been trying criminal cases long before I came to town, sorting through the evidence and testimony, rendering verdicts. To now say that a prolonged losing streak in the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office is due to the influence of television crime-based shows is demeaning to the intelligence of the potential jurors, and to everyone who has ever contributed his or her time to jury service. Did you call prosecutors in DuPage or Cook Counties to see if they have noticed a difference lately in their cases, or do you just blindly accept the word of those with an interest in turning the tide?
With all due respect to Ms. Gorecki, it is ludicrous to say that “criminals watch TV, too…they wear gloves.” Many cases have forensic evidence attached to them; the State’s Attorney’s Office has the use of the entire State of Illinois Crime Lab system at their fingertips, along with the very fine laboratory located in the DuPage County Sheriff’s Office, as well as private labs. All of this without mentioning the highly trained evidence technicians who work for local police departments.
You quoted a "judicial participant" as blaming Governor George Ryan’s death penalty moratorium in creating “damage to the public trust in the justice system.” With thirteen men proven to be innocent of crimes for which they were sentenced to the ultimate penalty, I hope that the public distrusts a system which will cut corners to obtain convictions. However, that is not what is going on here. We do not need “better educated” jurors in Kane County. The ones we have right now are doing fine. We need the cases which are brought to trial to be held to the supreme test of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Nobody can tell a panel of twelve “ordinary” citizens what that might be, nor should they. They know it when they see it. And that is just the kind of system I want to live under. You owe an apology to all jurors in Kane County.
Kathleen Colton, Attorney at Law
Batavia, IL 60510