Friday, September 7, 2001
Constitutional Rights Imperiled in England, British Jurist Tells State Bar Luncheon Attendees
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
A British jurist kicked off the annual meeting of California lawyers by cautioning them that the forebearer of the American legal system may soon jettison two cherished rights—the ban on double jeopardy and the right to keep the defendant’s previous criminal record from the jury.
If the first change is made, the state will be able to “try and try and try again until it gets the result it wants, under the theory that everybody knows he must be guilty,” Master Michael McKenzie told the luncheon crowd of several hundred attorneys at the Anaheim gathering.
McKenzie, whose titles include master of the Crown Office, registrar of criminal appeals, Queen’s coroner, and Queen’s attorney, criticized the proposal. The law barring retrial once a defendant has been acquitted “has served England well since Magna Carta in 1215,” McKenzie said.
He cited the grisly murder of a black youth, and the acquittal of several white suspects, as the reason for the contemplated change. New forensic techniques have made more evidence available today, McKenzie noted, but he called the prospect of reopening the acquitted defendants’ cases in order to use the new information “oppressive.”
Many of the California attorneys in attendance appeared to agree. Several gasped audibly at the suggestion that Britain might erase the 800-year-old right that was adopted as part of the U.S. Constitution.
Fewer expressed concern about allowing jurors to hear about previous convictions, although McKenzie called the move a “knee-jerk reaction.”
“We try on evidence, not on reputation,” McKenzie said. “I don’t think that principle needs reform.”
State Bar President-Elect Karen Nobumoto, a Los Angeles deputy district attorney, said she was intrigued by some of the English system’s attributes, as laid out by McKenzie.
For example, as in some U.S. states, jurors may convict on a majority rather than a unanimous vote.
“It was just an interesting concept that makes you rethink our system,” Nobumoto said.
The luncheon was sponsored by the State Bar’s Litigation Section, which every other year joins McKenzie in a tour of the courts and legal chambers of London.
The event was the first of this year’s annual meeting, although hundreds of California attorneys began the four-day convention with an 8:30 a.m. round of minimum continuing legal education classes.
Even allowing for last-minute course cancellations, nearly 200 classes are being offered on topics ranging from “Basics of Medi-Cal Planning” to “Ethical Traps and Mistakes to Avoid When Collecting Your Fees.”
California Women Lawyers officials said their dinner with former attorney general and Florida gubernatorial candidate Janet Reno was a sellout, with more than 900 lawyers planning to attend.
Reno arrived at the convention center yesterday afternoon and greeted a steady stream of well-wishers who were surprised to find her, luggage in hand, checking into the hotel with the other guests.
The three-day Conference of Delegates is slated to begin today at 2 p.m. The annual meeting concludes Sunday.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company