My View on U.S. Jury System
“The jury system,” Mark Twain famously observed, “puts a ban upon intelligence and honesty, and a premium upon ignorance, stupidity, and perjury.” “I desire to tamper with the jury law,” Twain continued, “to so alter it as to put a premium on intelligence and character, and close the jury box against idiots, blacklegs, and people who do not read newspapers” .
In a society that is allegedly undergoing a “litigation explosion”—and
thus one where juries play an increasingly significant role in the allocation (or redistribution) of resources, the application of law and order, and the rendering of justice—many might reflexively agree with Twain’s
cynical assessment. Indeed, in the face of various recent high profile criminal trials.For example,what we have learned in the text:Twelve Angry Men;O.J. Simpson Murder Case; Martha Stewart,;Enron and Tyco Corporation executives.And civil actions (tobacco litigation, asbestos suits), juries have been criticized as being incapable of assessing technical data, biased against law enforcement or large corporations, exceedingly vulnerable to emotional appeals and slogans (“If the glove does not fit, you must acquit”), and, in essence, compelled to mediocrity by an adversary system that deliberately filters out intelligent and informed would-be jurors during the case.
Members of the jury come from all walks of life, although the chances of a person having their fate deliberated by someone famous is small to nil. At the same time, however, a poor person can find his fate in the hands of a millionaire just as easily as a millionaire can find his fate being put into the hands of a minimum wage worker. American citizens can only serve on juries in those states in which they are official residents. In addition other exemptions include not being a US citizen and not being able to understand the English language, as well as certain physical disabilities such as blindness, deafness, physical infirmities and age. Obviously, those under the age of eighteen are not allowed to serve on a jury, but elderly people are also typically allowed to be exempt. Those with pressing occupational excuses typically tend to receive exemptions as well. For instance, doctors and nurses rarely serve on juries lasting more than a day. Clergymen also usually receive exemptions.
Most Americans would not be willing to give up the system as it is, though certainly everyone probably has their own idea on how to better it. Despite not being perfect, clearly no one American is ready to give serious thought to dumping it and starting over from scratch. In the American Jury System,Randolph Jonakait concedes as much and gives these concerns their due consideration---acknowledging the problems with the institution of the jury in principle and in practice--and yet he ultimately concludes that we have reason to be both proud and
optimistic:all things considered.the American jury system is in good shape and “works surprisingly well”.
The American judicial system, strained by the rising crime rates over the last few decades, has become an increasingly hot topic of conversation. While virtually every aspect of the system cries out for review, the O.J. Simpson courtroom drama and the crime bill signed into law by President Clinton have placed the entire jury system on the front burner -- and on trial.
From the moment of O.J.'s arrest on murder charges, there has been vigorous debate over the tactics and behavior of his highly paid defense lawyers, as well as grandstanding of prosecutors and the anticipated difficulty of seating a jury.
Meanwhile, debate over the crime bill culminated decades of widespread, growing concern -- and downright fear -- over the crime issue, and the direction we have been taking in this country.
Since Clinton's election conservatives and liberals have vied for the "Toughest on Crime" title. We hope enactment of the crime bill has put an end to that political bickering.
The law will add police officers, take measures aimed at prevention, and
increase -- in my view wrongheadedly -- the number of crimes punishable by the death penalty.
Through the years, some undesirable laws and unwise judicial decisions have taken Americans too far afield. They can fix what is broken, but it should not be necessary to tinker with the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of Rights.
The chasm between law, which they need to maintain civilization, and justice, which we need for our spiritual well-being, has gone beyond the pale.
Space does not permit a recitation of the well-known deficiencies of our parole system which allows too many criminals out of jail. Nor do they have space to detail their frustrations with "sentencing guidelines" or the abuse of power by judges, who are widely feared by nearly everyone.
Americans would need, as well, a voluminous tome to take up the outrageous overuse of plea bargaining by prosecutors.
The obvious need for reform of the prison system would take another entire volume to adequately cover.
Then,come to the most important part--- about the jury system!
Whenever the jury system is criticized, it's fashionable to say, "It may not be perfect, but where can you find a better one?"
The answer, of course, is "nowhere."
Jury Selection Process Questioned
True, but that doesn't mean Americans can't improve what they have. Isn't it time to open a dialogue that questions the jury selection process. Jury pools are taken from unfairly drawn lists, and jurors are seated only after a flawed system of challenges by defense and prosecution attorneys. Today, more than ever, citizens are fearful of serving on a jury for fear of retribution by gangs and others who have no respect for themselves or anyone else.
Specific Sentences Urged
Laws should specifically state the punishment for a crime, and courts should impose specific sentences, not ranges of 5 to 15 years, or 10 to 20 years, which are absurd -- especially when plea bargaining and parole make a mockery of those terms.
If I were a juror I would not want to vote to convict someone thinking the sentence would be five years, only to find out later that the judge decided on a 10-year sentence.