Do American Juries Dispense Justice?

The jury system in America consist of up to 12 ordinary citizens who are called from a pool of random people.  According to the law these citizens should be representative of the community but what that really means is ambiguous.  For example if a Black person is being tried for a crime that occurred in a predominantly Black community should the jury be predominantly Black? The impartiality of juries is also a bit vague.  What litmus test can be given to screen out biased jurors?  To make the system fair the lawyer for both the accused and prosecution can disqualify perspective jurors.  It is important that the defense and prosecuting attorneys select a jury that will be receptive to their point of view since ultimately the jury will judge the guilt or innocence of the defendant.  So impartiality is often not the criterion for jury selection.

One major problem is that most jurors are by in large ignorant of the technicalities of law and trial procedures.  Both the prosecuting and defense attorneys know this and try to use this ignorance to their advantage.  They often appeal the the jury’s emotional sense rather than the legal merits of the case.  It is a judge’s primary responsibility to make sure the two lawyers follow the technicalities of the law when the other attorney raises an objection.  He does little to enlighten the jury of such legal technicalities leaving it to the two lawyers to spin the case in their favor.

There are obviously better lawyers than others, so depending upon the ability of each lawyer a case can be won or lost based upon his or her skill at outmaneuvering the other lawyer and influencing the jury.  So cases are often won or lost not based upon the merits of the evidence but upon how skilled a lawyer is at convincing the jury of the validity of their arguments.  A good lawyer is expert at outwitting the other lawyer and reading the reactions and sentiments of the jury when spinning their arguments.  The defense attorney often pays expert profilers in high profile cases to help profile jury selections and to determine how jurors will react during the presentation of their case.  So trials are largely about how skilled a lawyer’s team is.  The O. J. Simpson case comes to mind of a high profile trial in which the majority of evidence pointed towards the guilt of the defendant but the jury judged him innocent.  Granted the police tainted some of the evidence but there was enough to bring in a conviction had a more unbiased jury been selected.

So the American jury system is flawed in its objective of dispensing blind justice because the skill of lawyers at manipulating the jury is a key objective often more so than the evidence presented in the case.  This is also true in civil law where law suits and other legal cases are decided by a jury.  Defendants who are too poor to hire a lawyer are given a lawyer who is doing the case pro bono (free).  In these cases the accused has little choice but to accept that lawyer’s services.  Since these lawyers are not paid, they often put up less than a sound defense for their client and do not have money to hire experts to help them in their case to independently collect evidence and act as expert witnesses.  Thus poor minorities are often on the loosing end of a case regardless of their guilt or innocence.

There are many ways a juror can be biased, unmotivated, and manipulated.  So is justice truly served for both defendant and the public?  There are likely some who are serving time due to a bad lawyer who are in fact innocent and others who are guilty but because of a good lawyer or bad prosecutors were judge innocent by a jury and released.  Many jury members are reluctant to serve due to jobs and other reasons so all they want is a quick trial if selected.  There are ways to get out of serving on a jury but then you are placed back in the jury selection pool to be called again later.

I believe that there should be professional jurors who have a lot of experience at trials and who must pass a proficiency test in basic law and jury procedures and responsibilities.  By virtue of being professional they are willing jurors.  They are paid a decent wage during trials and their trial experience well documented so that trial layers can see what their experience is and how they voted in a trial.  Jurors who have too many convictions or acquittals for certain crimes would simply not get selected by lawyers from both sides.  Most jury selections can be done outside the courtroom.  These jurors know enough about law to understand the technicalities of the case and have enough experience to see through most lawyer’s tricks and render a more fair judgement.  Trials would proceed more rapidly with far fewer mistrials offsetting the money spent on such jurors.  At least that is how I feel about our jury system.

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