- Jury deliberations began Thursday in the Virginia bank and tax fraud trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
- The jury sent a note to the judge asking for clarification about four topics, including a definition of the term, “reasonable doubt,” the standard to convict in a criminal trial.
- Legal experts wrote on Twitter that the note could indicate a “compromise verdict” in which the jury convicts Manafort on some charges but acquits him on others.
Jury deliberations began Thursday morning in the trial of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, but a verdict was not reached at the end of the first day.
After a two-week trial in which federal prosecutors from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team and US attorneys in Eastern District of Virginia tried Manafort on 18 federal charges of tax and bank fraud, both sides have delivered closing arguments and judge T.S. Ellis instructed the jury to begin deliberating at around 10:00 a.m.
MSNBC reported that at the beginning of deliberations, the jury submitted a note with four clarifying questions to Judge Ellis. Jurors can submit questions about evidence or the judge’s instructions to the bailiff during deliberation, according to the American Bar Association.
They reportedly asked if filing a report of Foreign Bank and Financial Records (FBAR) is required if one “owns less than less than 50% of the company and no signatory authority”, for clarification on the definition of a “shelf company,” requested that the original criminal indictment of Manafort be included as an exhibit, and most notably, for a clarification on the definition of “reasonable doubt,” the standard for a conviction in criminal cases.
According to Courthouse News reporter Brandi Buchman, Judge Ellis refreshed the jury on the FBAR filing requirements and the definition of reasonable doubt, but said they would have to “rely on their own memories” for the definition of a shelf company. Manafort is accused of failing to properly report foreign bank accounts via the legally required FBAR process.
What the experts say
Experts shared their concerns about the reasonable doubt question on social media, with some calling it a bad sign for the prosecution, but legal experts had differing perspectives on what this note could indicate about the jury’s thought process.
“I agree that the ‘reasonable doubt’ question is not a good one for prosecutors. It suggests some jurors are trying to convince a holdout,” wrote Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst. “The result is occasionally a ‘compromise verdict,’ where the defendant is found guilty on some but not all charges.”
Mariotti added, however, that even in a compromise verdict, “any felony count results in the judge considering *all* of Manafort’s conduct at sentencing, including conduct he is acquitted of. A conviction on any one count is a defeat for the defendant.”
Bradley Moss, a Washington, DC based national security lawyer, agreed that such a compromise verdict, often called “splitting the baby,” was likely based on the defense’s closing arguments and the note inquiring about FBAR.
“Manafort might get lucky on some of the bank fraud charges but these arguments are not likely to save him on the tax fraud issues,” he wrote Wednesday of the defense’s closing arguments, later adding, “based on the jury’s note this evening, I think it became a bit more likely Manafort does indeed skate by on some of the bank fraud charges.”
Ken White, a criminal litigator and former federal prosecutor who runs the popular legal blog PopeHat, pointed out that a given question on jury note doesn’t necessarily indicate the thoughts of the entire pool.
“Bear in mind that a jury note doesn’t mean ‘all 12 people want to ask this thing,” he wrote. “It often means “Ok, Stan wants to know that, and Julie wants to know this, so we’ll throw the question in a note.”
Jury deliberations are scheduled to continue Friday morning, beginning at 9:30 ET.