Email date: 11/8/07
This morning a state appeals court ordered a new trial for former Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen on the grounds that the trial court judge gave the jury a faulty instruction. Jensen was convicted in March 2006 of felony misconduct in public office and was sentenced to 15 months in prison and banned from the Capitol for five years. For more on today’s appeals court decision, go here.
In a separate ruling, the appeals court also granted a new trial for former Jensen aide Sherry Schultz. She was convicted of a felony by the same jury as Jensen, but unlike Jensen began serving her sentence while appealing the verdict. Schultz served four months of home confinement and is now on probation.
Granting Jensen and Schultz new trials on a technicality more than 600 days after their convictions is both a reflection of what is right and what is terribly wrong with our criminal justice system. On the one hand, this is how the justice system is supposed to work. Criminal defendants have a right to a fair trial and have every right to appeal a jury’s verdict.
On the other hand, it is painfully obvious that the system typically works this way only for a few very powerful people. How many poor people represented by public defenders would be able to remain free for 20 months while appealing a jury’s verdict and then win a new trial without providing any new and compelling evidence of their innocence?
Not only does today’s decision reopen the biggest political corruption scandal in Wisconsin’s history, but it guarantees that it will remain open for a very long time. Even if Jensen is again convicted, an appeal of the verdict could again takes months to be heard and ruled on by a state appeals court. And even if a second conviction were upheld by an appeals court, that ruling could be appealed to the state Supreme Court. It could be several years before this case is finally decided.