28 November 2004

Deliberating The Jury System

The Sixth Amendment states that in a criminal prosecution, an accused person has the right "to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury." Impartial is a critical distinction.

These thoughts I share here are not meant to demean the jury system nor does it profess or support any particular course of action. It is merely to express a concern that in our current times, there exists problems in the tasks laid out for jurors and in their "impartial" execution of these tasks.

Now, I admit that we have many of these issues only with high profile cases but with the advent of more media coverage and coverage devoted singularly to the trial process, more and more trials are "high profile".

Ok, the issues:

1. Unsequestered jurors are inundated with media coverage and commentary. Realistically, this is nearly impossible to avoid aside from completely shutting oneself off from the outside world. In actuality...do you feel most jurors can and will do this?

2. Motivation. We can no longer be reasonably assured that people accept the position of "juror" out of a strong sense of civic duty. The promise of 15 minutes of fame and big book deals does absolutely sway us mere mortals in the jury box. Most will believe in any circumstances, they can be objective so naturally they are more likely to smooth out rough edges that might get them the boot from jury selection. This problem then extends itself into deliberations. Unsequestered jurors are especially vulnerable to public outcry and opinion dictating what verdict might garner bigger checks. The pool of prospective jurors (nearly everyone) had this reality driven home in the OJ Simpson trial. Do not think for one minute that it escaped the OJ jurors or anyone that the dollar value of EVERY word they uttered was seriously diminished because of the acquittal. It is now an established reality that jurors are substantially rewarded for delivering what the public and/or the media sees as...justice.

What are the possible solutions?

1. Make it illegal for jurors to profit in any way from their experiences with the trial. They could be free to speak, give interviews, write on the experience...but not for gifts or money. This seems to me to be simple as well as being a solution that would not require a constitutional amendment. The states would probably come in slowly on the legislation based on how opposed it was by their particular constituency.

2. There are many who feel the media should be put on a tighter leash and not allowed to offer trial commentary during a trial. This is a slippery slope. So many issues. First, journalists are (supposedly) held to a different standard than say, organizations like Court TV. The line governing journalists has been blurred to say the least and many, many difficult distinctions would need to be made. Then the most important issue - freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Constitutionally curtailing that is somewhere we don't want to go. My opinion is that although we deal with several pitfalls in having media coverage everywhere, I don't want to call a halt to that myself. The fact that the keen eye of the media is everywhere has raised the bar of accountability--for our people, our government, etc. I personally do not want to give that up. And I don't see it solving the problem of manipulated jurors.

3. Professional juries. This poses interesting questions that I am still working on and debating. Would the use of professional juries require a constitutional amendment? The sixth amendment states "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall havebeen previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense." Professional juries would be laypersons - but - educated on avoiding outside influence, who are taught to understand rules of evidence, the trial process and instruction, and tested thoroughly on their objectivity. And most importantly, a professional jury could be one with no motivation other than insuring due process.

The jury system is in trouble right now. What is the best answer?

18 comments:

Laren said...

Hi,

Well in Australia, it's illegal to contact, interview or identify a member of a jury, before, during or after a trial. While our legal system isn't perfect, we just don't have the issue of "jury as celebrity". So perhaps this is one way to go.

Cheers,
Laren

Jordy said...

Couple of questions before I commit to a comment.

One: Can you define a professionial juror dichotomy that includes specific biases (other than money rewards and the like that you've named). I'm particularily interested in whether or not you deem religious affiliations, fundimentalist (anti gay and etc), and of course the logic vs emotional balance...etc *Specifially, what do you consider important, and equally interesting to me, what would you consider less important to the "professionalism" of a professional jury?


Rwo: Would yopu opt for a professional jury if you were- Mike Peterson, Scott Peterson, Robert Blake, or Aileen Wuornos? If so, why?

And Three: Can you think of a murder case where you would NOT want a professional jury?

Thank you in advance...

Your J

Hurricane Bob said...

Just a couple of comments, I'll try to keep it short. Interesting idea, but I don't think a professional jury would work. If you are looking for a jury of peers, how many criminals do you know have peers who would apply for the job. It would no longer be peers. It would definately take a constitutional amendment. I would think that in order to be a competent candidate for the job, someone would have to be well educated. Typically defense lawyers prefer their jurors on the dumb side. They are easier to convince that the defendant was framed or abducted by aliens at the time of the crime, what a perfect alibi. I like the idea of it being illegal for a juror to profit from a case he/she heard.

Did you see the movie runaway jury? I didn't agree with the portrayal of the gun industry, ut it was an interesting concept for a movie. I wonder if that actually happens!

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Hi Lesbiencestmoi

After reading a good blog I tend to analyze it to see what the person behind it might be like.

I've been in the goal setting business a while now and just like most people with experience in different areas of expertise, I can tell a lot about a person just by speaking to them or reading something they've written.

You haven't wrtten any goals on paper for awhile have you? And if you have I'll bet you haven't looked at them for a long time. Right?

Goal setting is hard work, and harder still if you don't have short range goals, mid range goals and long range goals.

I think you'll agree that few people really take the time to set goals of any kind.

When is the last time you really thought about setting some real goals, or are you like the vast majority of people who just "hope for the best"?

You already know successful people aren't "just lucky", they know how to set effective goals and reach them.

I was like that once, you might be also.

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Here’s yours;

Write Goals Down

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Set lifetime goals. At least have an idea of what you want to accomplish with your life.

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