Constitutional FAQ Answer #26
This is part two of a three-part question pertaining to the "Nanny Trial" in Fall, 1997.
Q26. "By what authority did Judge Zobel overrule the jury? The 7th amendment seems to prohibit this."
A. The key is "the rules of common law." The right (indeed, the duty) of a presiding judge to nullify the finding of a jury is well established. The judge, in theory, is supposed to listen to the evidence almost like a 13th juror. If he decides that the jury made a bad choice, based on the law, then he can throw out the decision. The powers of judges vary from state to state; I've heard that the power of judges in Massachusetts is very high.
Q27. "And also, what rights do Deborah and Sunil Eappen have as relatives of the victim? Could they sue Judge Zobel on constitutional grounds?"
A. None. Victims have no constitutional rights, as victims. It is, perhaps, sad to say, but there it is. This was, however, a state trial, and they may have certain rights as victims in Massachusetts. I haven't ever heard, though, of a judge ever being sued by anyone involved in a criminal case because of a particular decision in that case. Unless there are some specific grounds in a specific state, I don't even know what kind of grounds one would have to sue a judge because of a decision or ruling in a court case.