On Friday, a Yolo County jury deadlocked in a case where a county fair employee was accused of inappropriately “touching” a woman while he was helping to buckle her into a ride at the Yolo County Fair. The jury hung 10-2 for acquittal on the single misdemeanor count of sexual battery, as the two members of the jury holding out believed that Mr. Nelson’s action were intentional rather than accidental.
Judge Dan Maguire initially dismissed the charges, but later agreed to consider the State’s request for a retrial if the prosecution can produce additional evidence, specifically with regard to intent.
Willie Nelson worked at the Yolo County Fair in 2015. The DA charged him with sexual battery after a female rider claimed he touched her in the vaginal area while assisting her in buckling her seat belt for a ride. Mr. Nelson contends the touching was accidental However, the DA claims that he made inconsistent statements about where he touched her body when discussing the incident with police.
In our system, we require proof beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict someone of a criminal charge. Part of the problem is that proof beyond a reasonable doubt is often a nebulous standard.
Indeed, in the jury instructions, the standard reads: “Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is proof that leaves you with an abiding conviction that the charge is true. The evidence need not eliminate all possible doubt because everything in life is open to some possible or imaginary doubt.”
One thing that has always troubled me is how the system chooses to handle disagreements among jurors. If all jurors agree that there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt, then the defendant is convicted of the charge. If none agree, then the defendant is acquitted.
But in this case, ten believed he was not guilty and only two believed he was guilty. Is this split in and of itself evidence that there is reasonable doubt as to his guilt?
Judge Maguire seemed ready to dismiss the charges, citing his belief that the DA would not be able to prove the People’s case. However Deputy District Attorney Shelby Doyle requested a retrial, citing that a witness may be additional evidence with regard to Mr. Nelson’s intent.
She wants to be able to call an additional witness, a female fair employee who accused Mr. Nelson of exposing himself to her in a hotel room, then blocking the room’s exit and locking the door.
Deputy Public Defender Aram Davtyan argued that the court already ruled on the matter of admissibility of this evidence. The court had found a lack of similarity between the fair incident and the alleged hotel room incident.
Judge Maguire agreed to the possible retrial if the if the DA can come up with additional evidence about the alleged events in the hotel room.
This comes close to double jeopardy, at least in spirit, but not in the true legal sense of the term.
This is a misdemeanor case and the defense argued that it would be inconvenient and costly for the defendant to return to California for additional hearings or a retrial. Mr. Nelson lives in Springfield, Missouri, and works at a fast food restaurant, thus traveling to and from California imposes an economic hardship on him.
It seems to us that the DA had a chance to prove the charges and couldn’t do so. By being granted a new trial, they would have a second shot at the well – something that the double jeopardy clause in the Constitution is supposed to protect against.
If this were a closer call, a retrial would seem more reasonable. Certainly, if only a few jurors held out for not guilty, then the prosecution would be justified, even obligated, to bring the case back. But at 10-2, this was not a call.
This is a misdemeanor case. The defendant is now out of state. It would seem that the prosecutor’s office should be more focused on more serious crimes.
Judge Maguire ruled that, without additional evidence, he will dismiss the case because he believes the result of a second trial will be the same as the first. The judge said there was not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Nelson’s actions were intentional.
Judge Maguire granted the prosecution time to find the other possible complaining party.
We will find out more on February 18. From our perspective, this seems like a witch hunt and a fishing expedition. Captain Ahab has to catch his whale, but at what cost to our community? If Mr. Nelson is really innocent of this crime, isn’t this pursuit unwarranted?
—David M. Greenwald reporting