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The Jury Trial system is getting more and more publicity surrounding the tendency of juries to discuss cases, read newspapers, research the Internet and generally ignore Judge and Prosecutor Instructions to the contrary.
Why? While juries are instructed to decide cases based on the facts and weighing of the evidence presented, a long history of attempting to “insulate” juries as a result of tampering through coercion, bribery, cultural influences and more, has resulted in juries either ignoring or defying such instructions by reading and researching information to help them decide.
It’s time for the Justice System to recognize “the facts on the ground” and concentrate more on helping juries the right way, with creating a methodology and framework for jury deliberations that doesn’t try to restrict their considerations into a narrow, insulated mold, but provides an educational process to enable an honest and thorough completion of their task.
Prosecutors and Defense attorneys both want to influence and “control” the jury; they see that as their job.
But jury control, filtering of information, exclusion of facts, all aid in the diminution of the jury process, and contrary to what the media and others write, it ill serves the defendants and the cause of fair and impartial justice.
Constitutional rights to a Trial by Jury (Article Three) of Peers (consistently ruled on by the Supreme Court in favor of broader definition of Peers and right of inclusion) have been here since our Founding.
The origination of the Peer definition started in England, and as considered and established in the U.S. meant that Peers were fellow community members, even those of similar class and experience, and in the old days even people who knew the defendant were not excluded; smaller populations meant there was no choice but to include those who knew the defendant; those who were related were always excluded.
Today, Prosecutors and Defense Counsel seek to gain advantage in the jury process by controlling the “facts” and evidence presented to the jury; using “experts” to explain complicated issues, and even experts differ in the meaning of evidence.
How then, are juries to arrive at a fair and impartial decision?
Hard Work, and the consideration of any and all related factual materials that pertain to the case at hand.
We must trust juries to consider , however, ONLY the facts and evidence that relate to the trial at hand, regardless of what they may have seen, read, or researched during their jury time.
Can they ignore the world at large? Should juries be cut off from all contact with the outside world, “sequestered” for the duration of each trial;-no T.V., no newspapers, no Internet, no movies?
Can’t and shouldn’t happen. The curent system, with it’s constantly increasing rules and restrictions, distrusts juries to do their job and be fair and impartial.
Individual Jurors have been bribed or coerced, juries even render “nullification” verdicts wherein overwhelming evidence is ignored and verdicts of Innocent are rendered, usually as a result of cultural distrust of the police and the justice system, suspicious evidence, or just plain “punish the system.”
In the current system, at the conclusion of evidence presentation and testimony , including Closing Statements, juries receive ever more complicated instructions from Judges regarding exactly what issues are to be decided, even what issues are to be considered.
It’s time for a new Jury system.
The new system would provide for a Jury educational template in which the Organization of Jury Deliberations would be managed through formal Written Instructions, outlining the process. A formalization of a multi-step process of optional Jury interaction through mutual introduction (it happens anyhow) might not only be more efficient but fairer. Many Jurors report that discussions sometimes degenerate into personal attacks on other Jurors, or against the system. That’s not likely to change.
But the job of the Jury Foreman, the “coach” of the process, becomes more important in keeping the process moving; review of the Charges, consideration of the Evidence supporting each charge and voting on Guilt or Innocence.
That Jurors resist being sequestered, locked out of their daily lives, “shielded” from information that the system feels could influence their deliberations, fails to recognize the reality of modern life.
Better that the jury system creates more, not less, transparency; allows that the Jurors will obtain and consider information necessary to the “fair and impartial” part of the process; additional knowledge is not a diminution of a Defendant’s rights, only the unfair weighing of opinion, facts or information would be a detriment. The fair consideration of a juror’s own experiences, his values, his community only strengthens the process.
A more informed decision, logically has to be a better decision, a fairer decision.
And when a Judge refuses to answer a Juror’s question regarding the process, the evidence, the charges, the deliberations, he fails to do his job and the system is lessened for it.
An “ideal” Jury might be twelve people who are all local residents of the community where the crime occurred (the Constitution requires only State residency and Citizenship), all twelve approximately the same age- how about all the same gender? After all, how can men deal with “women’s issues? All the same race? All the same profession and education?
The Constitution and the justice system has never interpreted “peers” that precisely; suffice that historical and Court decisions only require Citizens of the State where the crime occurred. Does that make them Peers? Is a Farmer from downstate the peer of a drug addict from the city? Is a “soccer mom” the peer of a gang member? Is a College Junior the Peer of a Serial pedophile? and on and on.
What justice would be provided if the only allowed Peers of Defendants were…criminals?
It is left to trust that a selected juror’s “peer” status gives them the ability to fairly and impartially weigh the evidence, and in the new Jury model any and all information as necessary, without being unduly or unfairly influenced by extraneous information.
Modern juries resent not being trusted to be fair; they resent the system trying to manipulate them.
At least a newer system and process would deal with the reality of modern society.
It will help the justice system to better solve the problems it faces by delivering more informed and hopefully, fairer verdicts, more efficiently.
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