Conscience of the Community
177 pages, soft cover, $19 postage paid
CPR Books; P0 Box 1911; Santa Fe, NM 87504
Reviewed by C. C. Simmons, JD Correspondent
Winter 2005, p. 8
extraordinary book by an ordinary citizen who served on the jury of one
of the longest running criminal trials in the history of New Mexico.
From voir dire through verdicts Mara Taub tells the story of a federal
district court trial that ran for 6 months and convicted none of the
nine defendants. With a view from the inside looking
real-life report of the operation of the criminal justice system is a
refreshing departure from the stultifying discourse on juries found in
most law school text books.
The author, a school teacher, and community activist of more than .35
years, sat on the jury of United States of America vs. Gabriel
Rodriquez-Aguirre, et al. At the outset, jurors were told to expect an
8-to-10 week trial; the trial actually ran 4 months and jury
deliberations continued for an additional 2 months.
There were 300 witnesses, 4,000 exhibits, nine defendants, 17 counts,
and 31 charges against the various defendants. The single charge common
to all defendants was that each had engaged in “the unlawful,
knowing, and intentional distribution of 100 kilograms of
marijuana.” If found guilty, the defendants faced prison
from 10 years to life.
In her well documented and insightful analysis of the
government’s case, Taub found flaw after flaw. As a
juror, she observed that while the prosecutors alleged “vast
amounts” of marijuana had been bought and sold by the
- 10,000 to 12,000 kilos - no marijuana was ever admitted into evidence
at trial. The government did introduce photographs of marijuana but
those photographs didn’t show any of the defendants or the
Prosecutors also alleged that one of the defendants buried $1.7 million
in his back yard but it was unclear how much money had actually ally
been dug up or who buried it. Because local prosecutors lacked the
staff to manually count the cash, the recovered money had been sent to
Dallas where there was a money-counting machine. Jurors were shown a
video of the machine but there was no way to tell if the money being
counted was connected to the Aguirre case,. Only two worn $50 bills
were introduced as evidence at trial.
The jurors were also invited to believe that the two large empty holes
in the ground shown in the government’s photographs were
storage vaults used by the defendants to store marijuana.
None of the horses, more than 200 of them, whose purchase was purported
to have been part of the money laundering operation, was trotted into
court. There were not even photographs of most of the horses although
one, assertedly owned by one of the defendants, won the All American
Futurity at Ruidoso, New Mexico. That race’s $1
purse is the largest in the country:.
As the trial lurched from weeks to months, Taub’s wry
observations of the criminal justice system and its cast of characters
became more pointed. She noted that the deputy marshals in the
courtroom behaved as if they were guards to restrain the jury from
doing anything wrong; they acted as if the defendants were guilty and
deserved any punishment they got. Nor, she wrote, did the judge appear
to have any doubt about the guilt of the defendants.
Of more than 300 witnesses, those who testified the longest were the
informants or “snitches” who cut a deal with the
prosecutors. Some had originally been defendants but, with a goal of
self-preservation, realigned their allegiances.
The jury learned that any scrap of paper with words on it could be
referred to as a “document” and thus introduced as
More than 4,000 exhibits were presented at trial, most by the
prosecution. The defendants, five men and four women, were all
Hispanic and related to one southern New Mexico family. Although the
defendants supposedly made millions of dollars in their marijuana
operation, eight were found to be indigent and thus qualified for
court-appointed defense lawyers at trial.
After a four month trial, the judge read the jury 69 pages of
instructions. Their deliberations began on May 5 and the verdicts were
returned on July 12.
About half of the jury of 11 women and one man were over 50 years of
age. Several jurors were Hispanics, two Navajos, and three Anglos. Ten
of the 12 were, in some capacity, employed outside the home. All jurors
resided in Albuquerque or in the northern part of New Mexico.
During deliberations, one juror said that people should be
considered guilty until proven innocent. Another woman opined
that jurors were suffering stress because of witchcraft that might be
coming from Mexico. Two jurors were frightened by the reputations of
the defendants who might come after them in some way.
There was also a woman who felt God was displeased by what the
defendants had done and she saw to it that the jurors began
deliberations every morning with a silent prayer while holding
hands around the table.
The jurors agreed that the prosecutors’ case was lengthy,
detailed, and unclear. The first 3 weeks of deliberations were
spent going through notes and exhibits and attempting to put the
government’s case together. The next 2 weeks were
trying to organize and clarify the vague, inconsistent, and
contradictory testimony of 25 informant witnesses. Thereafter,
deliberations began in earnest.
After 2 months of deliberations, Taub’s jury did not convict
of the nine defendants. Three were acquitted while the jury hung on the
other six. The judge was furious with the verdicts. He later said he
would have thrown the book at all defendants.
When there is a hung jury, the prosecution decides whether to try the
defendants again. In the Aguirre case, the government decided to do so.
The second trial began with six defendants, a different jury, and
the same insubstantial evidence that was insufficient to
convictions at the first trial.
During the second trial, one defendant became ill and accepted a plea
bargain deal. The other five defendants were convicted and sentenced to
prison. Taub was present for the sentencing phase, the only juror from
either trial to attend.
As with the first trial, the second was held in the same court with the
same prosecutors, the same evidence, and six of the same defendants.
Only the jury was different. One might conclude that defendants are
better served when a jury is populated by citizens with the
intelligence, personality, and communication skills necessary to guide
a jury to discover the deficiencies in the government’s case.
Taub skillfully interweaves her chronology of the Aguirre trial with
brief but instructive excerpts from scholarly works, news reports, and
appellate court opinions. She presents learned commentary on wrongful
convictions, mandatory minimum sentencing, jury
reasonable doubt, and the death penalty.
Toney Anaya, the former Governor and Attorney General of New Mexico,
said of Taub’s Juries, “A unique glimpse into the
mind of a
juror with values she would not compromise who voted her conscience and
dared to judge a criminal justice system that discriminates against
people of color and the poor. Must readings for potential jurors and
anyone truly interested in doing what is right.”
Conscience of the Community can be ordered for a $19
check or money order from:
P. 0. Box 1911
Santa Fe, NM 87504