Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 12:01 am
A rare verdict
Get charged with a crime in federal court and you might as well get used to wearing stripes.
That’s the common wisdom, at least, borne up by statistics that show defendants in federal court almost never walk, especially in central Illinois, where the rate of acquittal is less than half the national average, according to annual statistical reports prepared by Department of Justice.
According to the reports, just three of 2,137 criminal cases filed by the local U.S. attorney’s office between 2007 and 2012 have ended with not-guilty findings, which puts the odds of acquittal at less than one in 700; the national average over those same years is one in 227.
Indeed, local lawyers, despite the Department of Justice reports, say they can’t recall any acquittals in federal court in Springfield for years.
“I know of no acquittals in the central district of Illinois over, at least, the last decade,” says Jon Gray Noll, a prominent criminal defense attorney who routinely handles federal matters. “It’s extremely unusual.”
Enter Douglas Quivey, a Springfield lawyer in private practice who was appointed by the federal court to represent Rashaud Brown, who was charged last spring with possessing a quarter-pound of crack cocaine.
The facts, as Quivey notes, were not typical for a drug case. It began when Brown called Dubois Elementary School last year and asked to speak with his 10-year-old daughter, saying that he needed to retrieve a pair of glasses from the girl’s backpack. A secretary overheard the girl tell Brown that there was nobody nearby and that “it” was still hidden in her shoe, according to charging papers.
Concerned by the secretive nature of the conversation, a social worker checked the girl’s shoes and found nothing. But the social worker did find a chunk of crack wrapped in a pair of pants inside the girl’s backpack. While the social worker was speaking with the girl, Brown arrived at the school and said that he needed to see his daughter. School employees, who had removed the drugs, gave the backpack to Brown, who handed it to his daughter, then left. A teacher said that he appeared to be running after he left the building.
The girl refused to say who had given her the crack, telling authorities that she protects her family. Her younger sister told the principal that Brown had told her sibling to put the drugs in her shoe. Eight months later, the U.S. attorney’s office charged Brown.
Last month’s trial ran into three days, with U.S. District Court Judge Sue Myerscough refusing a defense motion to acquit Brown on the grounds that the only evidence against him was testimony that he had once been near the backpack in which the crack was found. A jury, however, acquitted Brown after just 33 minutes of deliberations.
It was not a complete victory, given that Myerscough denied Brown’s request, mailed from jail to the judge shortly before his trial began, for more than $46 million in compensation for a litany of alleged governmental wrongs that included constitutional violations, coercion, extortion, racketeering, false imprisonment, conspiracy and collusion. But it could have been a lot worse, given that Brown had previous drug convictions and was facing a life sentence.
James Lewis, U.S. attorney for the Central District of Illinois, declined comment. Quivey insisted that he’s no Perry Mason. Authorities, he speculated, may have jumped to conclusions because of his client’s criminal history.
“It was definitely an interesting one,” Quivey said. “I got very lucky. It was one of those perfect storms that doesn’t happen very often.”
Contact Bruce Rushton at email@example.com.