The film also stars Peter Dinklage, Linus Roache, Alex Rocco, and Ron Silver. Much of the courtroom testimony was taken from the original court transcripts.
It's the late 1980s and low-level mobster Jackie DiNorscio (Vin Diesel) has just been shot by his junkie cousin Tony Compagna (Raúl Esparza), but refuses to press charges against him to police. Jackie soon gets arrested and is sentenced to thirty years on an unrelated drug bust.
Tony, afraid of reprisals from the extended mob family run by Nick Calabrese (Alex Rocco), agrees to be a government witness for district attorney Sean Kierney (Linus Roache), who intends to bring down dozens of organized crime figures all at once. Kierney tries to bribe Jackie to be a government witness as well, but it's not in the gregarious Jackie's nature to be a rat.
That sets in motion a massive court case where Jackie, Nick and dozens of other mobsters are tried together for a countless number of crimes in front of presiding Judge Sidney Finestein (Ron Silver). Upset with his current lawyer, who couldn't even keep him from doing a 30-year stretch, Jackie turns down an offer to be represented by lead defense attorney Ben Klandis (Peter Dinklage) and decides to represent himself in court, despite having no legal background or any real knowledge of how to proceed.
Jackie's mischievous and vulgar manner amuses the jury on occasions but persistently irritates the judge, lawyers, witnesses, and defendants, including his friends from the mob. As weeks turn into months, the court case evolves into a marathon affair. Jackie turns the courtroom into something of a three-ring circus. Ben begins to believe that maybe Jackie could be effective, but Nick Calabrese is furious and Judge Finestein repeatedly threatens the charismatic mobster with contempt of court.
Jackie's estranged wife, Bella (Annabella Sciorra), visits him in jail, where he is becoming increasingly frustrated. Guards spy on him and prosecuting attorneys remove his favorite chair, causing considerable pain to Jackie's injured back.
He apologizes to the court and tries to mind his manners in the end. The prosecutors and the defense return to their offices expecting the jury to deliberate for at least a week. However, the jury comes to a decision after only 14 hours of deliberation. The jury reaches a verdict of not guilty for all. The entire courtroom reaches pandemonium as the family celebrates. The entire family hugs the twelve jury members as they leave. Meanwhile, Jackie is the only one bound for jail, returning there to finish his sentence. Jackie is welcomed as a hero in the correctional facility, where fellow prisoners chant "Jackie" and extend their hands in tribute to a man who refused to compromise his family for his life.
Find Me Guilty received mostly positive reviews. Review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes reports that 61% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 104 reviews, with an average score of 6/10. The critical consensus is: "Find Me Guilty's excessive length and heavy-handed narrative keep it from reaching its full potential, but Vin Diesel's performance is well worth watching."
Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars, calling Diesel "a good choice for this role, bringing it sincerity without nobility." Ebert also praised the film's director, Lumet, who "was able to see the serious dramatic potential of Vin Diesel, dismissed as an action star, and use it for a remarkable performance."
The film had very poor box office performance; on its first weekend, it grossed only $608,804 (439 theaters, averaging $1,386 per theater). It grossed $1,173,643 in the domestic market, and $1,457,700 overseas, for a total of $2,631,343. The film's budget was $13 million, and so it was considered a box office bomb.
In August 1985, authorities in New Jersey indicted Anthony Accetturo, Martin and Michael Taccetta, and eighteen of the men who ran the New Jersey faction of the New York-based Lucchese crime family. It was the first time in New Jersey history that an entire organized crime family had been indicted in one prosecution. However, this crime family proved to be only a faction of the Lucchese crime family, only operating in New Jersey. But due to the crew's membership and 20 defendants, U.S. law enforcement recognized the crew as its own crime family.
The case went to trial in November 1986, based on a 65-page indictment. It started in March 1987 at the federal courthouse in Hoboken. It ended on August 26, 1988. The U.S. Clerk’s Office in Hoboken confirmed that officially The United States v. Anthony Accetturo et al. was the longest criminal case on record in the federal courts of the nation.
The jury found a verdict of not guilty in favor of all the defendants. The trial followed a ten-year investigation and generated 240 volumes and 850 exhibits of evidence. It cost taxpayers millions of dollars, and was the result of a 76 count Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) indictment.