A divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit today upheld the conviction of former Illinois Governor George Ryan and an associate on various criminal charges. As the Chicago Tribune reported here, Ryan was accused of substantial corruption during his terms as both Governor and Secretary of State. The panel divided over whether (in the dissent's words) a "flood of errors" relating to jury deliberations justified overturning the conviction. The majority opinion by Judge Wood (joined by Judge Manion) begins:
This appeal comes to us after an investigation that lasted for years and a jury trial that lasted more than six months. In the end, the two defendants, former Illinois Governor George H. Ryan, Sr., and his associate Lawrence E. Warner, were convicted on various criminal charges. The case attracted a great deal of public attention, and thus the district court handling the trial had to handle a number of problems, some of which were common and others less so. The fact that the trial may not have been picture-perfect is, in itself, nothing unusual. The Supreme Court has observed more than once that “taking into account the reality of the human fallibility of the participants, there can be no such thing as an error-free, perfect trial, and ... the Constitution does not guarantee such a trial.” . . . It is our job, in this as in any other criminal appeal, to decide whether any of the court’s rulings so impaired the fairness and reliability of the proceeding that the only permissible remedy is a new trial.
The dissent, by Judge Kanne, begins:
My colleagues in the majority concede that the trial of this case may not have been “picture-perfect,” – a whopping understatement by any measure. The majority then observes that the lack of a picture-perfect trial “is, in itself, nothing unusual.” I agree that from my experience this is a realistic proposition. There is rarely perfection in any human endeavor – and in particular jury trials. What we expect from our judicial system is not an error free trial, but a trial process that is properly handled to achieve a fair and just result. That fair and just result was not achieved in this case.