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etc. - a little of this, a little of that - by Oliver Del Signore

Juries are supposed to judge, not be judged

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

The American system of trial by jury is often touted as the best possible means of dispensing justice. Certainly, that is the message of the short, 659-word column excerpted and linked below. And, certainly, that was once true. But that is no longer the case, and hasn’t been for a very long time.

Please take a few minutes to read it. See if you notice the same things that trouble me.

Judging the potential jury

It is the crazy, beautiful circus at the heart of the American justice system. Listen closely to a criminal trial jury selection and you learn a lot about the burdens, fears, foibles, and remarkable strengths of your fellow citizens. You hear profiles in courage and, from scattered artful dodgers, profiles in convenience. Above all you hear the solemn determination of ordinary folk to be fair.

On Monday morning, the jury pool gathered in Courtroom 18 at the Moakley Courthouse in South Boston, where US District Judge William G. Young presides. Young has an evangelist’s devotion to the jury system. In speeches to new jurors, he always calls it “the most vital expression of direct democracy that exists anywhere on the planet.”

He patiently explained why this pool of about 50 nervous souls were gathered. A man named Calvin Dedrick had been charged with gun and drug crimes. They alone could decide if he was guilty.

Then it was time to cull the group to 12 jurors and two alternates.

Click Here to read the rest of the column.

How appropriate the author chose the word “cull” to describe the jury selection process because, like culling a herd of animals, people are culled from the jury pool. Of course, with jurors, weakness and bad health have little to do with it. But undesirable traits have everything to do with it. Leading the list of undesirable traits are independent thinking and an unwillingness to do as you are told.

When the judge asked the man if he could find the defendant guilty even though the man believed drugs should be legal, he was really asking the man if he could put aside his conscience and do as he’s told. He’s telling the man his sole job as a juror is to decide if a law was broken. And that is a lie, one judges across the nation tell with daily regularity.

And what kind of person would vote against his own conscience?

While part of a juror’s job is to judge whether a law has been broken, it is also their job to decide if the law is constitutional, reasonable, and being applied in a reasonable manner in the case at hand.

The judge was asking that potential juror if he could find Calvin Dedrick guilty and send him off to prison merely for having a gun and/or for possessing and/or selling drugs, which the juror rightly believed should be legal. The judge was looking for people who could convict despite the fact that all laws restricting possession of firearms and of possessing and selling drugs are clearly unconstitutional. Of course, the judge would not be telling them that. It’s his job to keep the cops and prosecutors working, the prisons full, and himself employed.

“…you could understand Young’s great faith in these randomly selected, moderately vetted citizens.”

Jury pools may be randomly selected today, but Judge Young’s “great faith” in them rests on them being anything but “moderately vetted” as his questioning shows. He wants  a jury who can be led, like sheep; a jury that will not question the law or anything else he tells them.

If the jury’s only job was truly to decide whether or not a law was broken, we would not even need a jury. A computer could do it.

“Our whole moral authority depends on the people we’re bringing up here,” Young said. In Courtroom 18, that authority was quite sound.

Judge Young was correct.  A court’s moral authority does depend on the people they select. And once, that moral authority was sound. No longer. Juries packed with people who are willing to convict despite their personal beliefs are not juries at all. They’re human robots. And they are not dispensing justice.

In my courtroom, were I ever to sit in Judge Young’s chair, potential jurors would be asked

1) Do you in any way know or are you in any way related to any of the parties involved in this case?

Then I’d excuse those with long-standing vacation plans, health issues, etc.

Then twelve would be chosen at random as jurors and two as alternates.

Then we’d have some real justice.

What do you think?

Am I crazy? Do we need and want judges to “cull” jurors who are independent thinkers?

How would you run a courtroom?

8 Responses to “Juries are supposed to judge, not be judged”

  1. Brian Says:

    Take a look at Fully Informed Jury Association at , in particular the Juror’s Handbook (downloadable pdf).

  2. EverAfterPatrick Says:

    It is always the duty of jurors to judge, the crime, the law and the punishment. The manner in which juries are packed with sheeple by eliminating those that are aware of their duty/responsibility is a corruption of our judicial process.

  3. Leonard Barnes Says:

    I have served on several juries in my life. I have been rejected from several as well and I find the reason (though never stated) was that I was not what the attorneys were looking for. Find the most likely to do as they are told is what it seems like is the goal. Having been introduced to “Jury Nullification” early in my life could be the reason for my being dismissed from more than 1 jury pool. I feel the 12 person jury can be the most positive political body in our system, were the information from to become required reading in schools and for all potential jurists. Judicial instructions are more damaging to serving justice than any evidence or lack thereof can ever be presented.

  4. Don Says:

    I’d have a pool of jurors comprising every person 18 years or older in that jurisdiction. No exceptions, unless an individual has lost his citizens privileges by reason of a felony conviction, is mentally incompetent, or is hospitalized.

    Pick, by computer generated random number, say, 18 people. At voir dere the only questions permissible would be, “Do you have any hardship which you believe will keep you from serving on this jury?” And, “Do you know anyone, on either side, who is or was involved in this case?” The judge decides whether to excuse someone.

    And the trial starts today.

  5. Hanza Says:

    I mentioned during voi dire once and I was rejected by the defense which surprised me. I would have expected it from the prosecution.

    I turn 70 next week and in Oregon once you hit 70 you are no longer liable for jury duty if you don’t want to serve. Automatically excused if you request it just based on age. So I will be requesting not to serve because I would get bounced again anyway being an independant thinker.

  6. MikeT Says:

    They are looking for people that will either give a lenient look at their client or be harsh to their opponent. I don’t think the judge should be leading them with questions neither do I think Culling the Herd should be allowed. The system is flawed but it’s better than some Kangaroo courts in other countries though.

  7. Tawnya Norton Says:

    I do not believe this was the intention of having a jury. Jurors need to stand for what they think, not what they are told to think.

  8. Aaron Says:

    Although I like the idea of judging based on personal belief rather than the law, there are problems with it which the jury selection is designed to avoid.

    In the example given of violating gun and drug laws, yes, I could find him not guilty based on my belief of those laws being wrong, even though he had violated the laws based on the evidence. That might be justice prevailing.

    On the other hand, the jury could be full of anti-gun people and despite the evidence showing that he committed no crime, they could find him guilty because of their beliefs.

    You seem to assume that your understanding of what is “right” is better than others, but fail to remember that most people don’t agree with you, so if everybody did it, you would still be in the minority and justice would still fail!

    Since this country is made up mostly of sheeple, the chances of the wrong decision being made if they were allowed to vote on personal belief rather than rule of law are greater than not.

    We have a system in place to correct bad laws, through the polls, court challenges, etc. Sadly we tend not to use these, so we are stuck with the laws we have unless and until we wake up and fix the laws.

    Will I vote based on my beliefs, even if the law doesn’t agree? It would depend on the evidence and case and what would serve justice the best.



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