Jury System Could Use an Overhaul

Trial Judge in O.J. Simpson Case

Judge Lance Ito
Judge Lance Ito

Orenthal James 'O.J.' Simpson

Orenthal James Simpson
Orenthal James Simpson

Would You Favor Selection of Jury By Lot Among Citizens in the District?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I Like It the Way It Is Now.
See results without voting

This column is not about O.J. Simpson! It's about our criminal justice system.

The "Trial of the Century," as the media have tagged it, has opened the eyes of many Americans to some of the shortcomings of jury trials.

Virtually no one is satisfied with the outcome of O.J.'s trial. Many believe he got away with the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, and many others, myself included, believe the jury's "not guilty" verdict should have put an end to the criminal case.

Is O.J. innocent? I don't know, you don't know.

Is O.J. not guilty? Yes. O.J. is not guilty -- a duly constituted jury said so.

Not Guilty Doesn't Mean Innocent

The difference between "not guilty" and "innocent" is subtle, but significant. "Not guilty" is a legal term which means the court is unable to prove, under the law, that an accused is guilty as charged. "Innocent," however, means blameless. "Not guilty' isn't meant to mean "innocent," and as history has proved, one can be "innocent" and still be found guilty.

Despite the jury's decision, some people persist in saying O.J. is guilty -- especially Geraldo Rivera whose obsession with the case is clearly based on ratings, and Christopher Darden, who, as one of the prosecutors and an officer of the court, should be extolling the virtues of the justice system. He should not be acting like a sore loser.

At least Ron Goldman's father acted from pure emotion. That, at least, is understandable.

It's neither wise nor helpful to blame the jury for a decision you do not agree with. The jury is required to follow the rules of evidence and the judge's instructions on the law; you are not.

O.J. Jury Did a Creditable Job

The O.J. jury, under harsh circumstances, did a creditable job. They weighed the evidence over many months -- without the hearsay and faulty analyses of the media. The jurors were the only people to hear the unbiased facts (Even the lawyers and judge heard the tainted evidence the jury was either not allowed to hear or instructed to ignore.)

Others, including, unfortunately, too many well-heeled suburban whites, persist in saying O.J. escaped punishment because the jury ignored the facts, or because the prosecutors failed to present what they perceived to be an airtight case.

We can't have things both ways. Our society has developed over the years a body of law designed to determine whether a person is guilty. Are we now to disavow our court decisions willy-nilly if we don't agree?

Rules Should Be Reviewed

We should take a serious look at the way we select juries as well as the laws and guidelines we have developed pertaining to evidence. I think the Simpson trial showed the system is rife with rules and precedents that no longer serve us well.

We should choose jurors by lot from among those in a qualified jury pool. We should select the jurors and alternates we need and put them directly into the jury box -- without voir dire, without questionnaires and without questioning.

This would indeed be a jury of one's peers, not, as in the Simpson murder trial, a jury molded by the lawyers and judge to the detriment of the people and the state.

I believe these people would act as peers and could be expected to act fairly without bias.

I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on Oct. 12, 1996. I now write my views on a wide variety of topics on HubPages. To view my HubPages Profile Click Here

O.J. Simpson Escorted Through the Booking Process

More by this Author


Comments 14 comments

compu-smart profile image

compu-smart 8 years ago from London UK

My answer would be to replace the jurors who are just everyday people who at times have no idea of the law or even "instincts" which i know is not a valid reason to convict anyone...

If i was in charge i would implement lie detectors as a replacement..I know some lie detectors can be fooled but these systems are becoming more and more sophisticated and i would rather convict this way than relying on the possible defence lawyers great defence or the prosecutors great offence which always sway the jury regardless of eveidence!


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thanks for commenting, compu-smart. I believe we'll never find a foolproof way of selecting a jury, that's why I prefer "by lot." Lie Detectors will never really distinguish truth because it measures "physical reaction." That reaction comes from what the subject is "thinking," and nobody can know that. But there's a lot of room for opinions, I agree.


compu-smart profile image

compu-smart 8 years ago from London UK

I saw a documentary where they scanned this guys brain and asked him questions and and experimented with different feelings such as pain, emotion, etc and it proved that the Brian can be read..This is the future for me and will eliminate jurors but i would recommend 3 judges and 3 lie detecterologists! to replace the 12 jurors who would decide to convict with using the best styles of lie detecting techniques.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

As much as I'd like to see 100 percent-correct jury decisions, I think brain scans would be unconstitutional in the United States. I'm a sceptic, compu-smart, so it would take a lot to prove to me that a brain scan could accurately read one's mind -- or should be used for that purpose. Nevertheless, I am worried about the possible use of implants to control the thoughts and actions of citizens. George Orwell, where are you?


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 8 years ago

I like the idea of selecting juries by lot. The voir dire process favors defendants with deep enough pockets to pay big bucks to a jury research consultant. Less affluent defendants are victimized by having prosecutors eliminate potentially synpathetic jurors. As in an old Spanish saying, "The law is a mad dog that bites only the poor."  [La ley es un perro rabioso que no muerde sino a los de ruana.]

Thoughtful column as usual, William. BTW my mother's maiden name was Pound, and she claimed to be a distant cousin or something of Roscoe. She had an English class with Roscoe's sister Louise Pound at the University of Nebraska.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thanks for the nice addition to this hub, Ralph, and for your kind words. You are deservedly proud to have familial connections to Roscoe Pound, who did his part in preserving justice.


In The Doghouse profile image

In The Doghouse 8 years ago from California

William

I think the jury system has it's many flaws but as of yet I believe it is the best system of justice out there. But, having just gone through the tedious process of being summoned to jury service, and having spent the entire day just sitting waiting to be called, totally unproductive to say the least, I like your idea of juries by lot. I who have close familial ties with the law enforcement industry am immediately "excused" from service. I think however, I could totally be fair in my judgement of the facts. If I am not going to be allowed to serve, don't waste my time waiting to be bounced. Thank you again for you well thought out ideas.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

I've had the experience a number of times, In The Doghouse. After many hours of waiting around, and in one instance being briefed by the judge several times, I was allowed to go home -- once in a murder trial because I knew most of the lawyers, including the judge, and once because the case was settled before any trial could be held. I think most Americans would be fair if given the opportunity. Voir dire, it seems to me, plays on all the prejudices of prospective jurors and results in a jury virtually handpicked by the lawyers (from both sides.)


issues veritas 7 years ago

William,

 

This is another hub party that I came late to, as I have only been on hubpages for five weeks.

This is an interesting topic for me and it should have been for many people.

I have written some hubs on the presumption of innocence and how just an arrest makes it disappear.

As for the OJ Simpson case, the prosecution didn't provide the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. The police were sloppy with the evidence chain, forensics were not to competent and the prosecution was to cocky.

You are right it is not a question of whether he was really guilty. It was a question of did the trial prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty.  Mark Fuhrman's handling of the OJ Simpson house was a key factor in the prosecution failing to make their case. The other detective that ran around LA and finally to the Simpson house with a sample of Simpson's blood with him was stupid if not criminal. That blood sample should have been logged into evidence and not transported to the suspects house. They only found a few blood spots in a sock in Simpson's bedroom. We know that blood can be found even after a cleaning, yet they were not able to find any.

Anyway, back to the jury. The jury did what they should have done based on the evidence shown to them and their interpretation of reasonable doubt.

My problem with the jury system is that it is amateur time. These jurors were selected because they couldn't get out of jury duty or they were bored and they wanted in. The jury is the trier or fact and the judge is the trier of law. But that should not mean that they shouldn't understand the law, just that they shouldn't interpret the law. They should consider the evidence and weigh it against the totality of the trial. Put that evidence consideration in with the closing arguments and then make a decision.

I would like to see, professional juries and they should be paid for their services. Remember everyone else in the court system is being paid. Only the defendant and juries are not being paid in a criminal trial. Contrast this to when a criminal trial is by a judge rather than a jury. The judge is paid.

I would stretch the point by saying an unpaid juror is an example of involuntary servitude. The government looks at it as a duty of the public. Lawyers still believe in the current jury system, that alone should give an indication that it is bad.

BTW, the jury that awarded the Goldman family 30 million dollars was way out of line under the Wrongful Death cause of action. They had no proof of Simpson being involved with the death of his son, and with a low bar for civil trial burden of proof it was not reasonable. A preponderance of evidence is an ambiguous term and to allow punitive damages in the millions based on that burdgen is ridiculous.

The jury selection process, in my opinion has some merit but the current process is a little overboard. The term a jury of your peers is of no meaning or valid anymore.

Again, it is the safeguards for the innocent that should be involved in the criminal justice system.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 7 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thank you, issues veritas, for your thoughtful response. We are pretty much on the same page. I would not, however, want to see professional juries. As stated in the hub, I would prefer to select jurors by lot from a qualified jury pool. To create a pool of professional jurors would, in my opinion, not only take judicial decisions out of the hands of ordinary citizens, but would create a new, entrenched, elite and powerful body that would have the potential of becoming corrupt, allowing citizens little or no recourse. What would be the standards for selection of professional jurors? How could we insure they would be unbiased? Jury selection by lot would prevent any one person from wielding too great an influence on how justice is meted out. I believe justice should always be kept in the hands of common, ordinary citizens.


issues veritas 7 years ago

William,

I would agree with you if the current system was working but we both agree that it is not.

Paying the jurors is more for compensating them for their out of pocket costs and time.I don't believe that it would necessarily make them professionals for that reason.

If the jury system was the only problem with the criminal justice system then we could probably fix it. But even fixing the jury system wouldn't give us a better justice system.

I know that many people still think that the criminal justice system is working but I don't see any evidence of that opinion. In fact, both the civil and criminal system is broken and needs to be fixed. In te civil arena, there have been too many frivolous law suits getting by the demurrer process and jury awards of punitive damages goes more to the lawyers than the people.

I could go on but this is your hub.

I still think we are on the same page, just a different font.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 7 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Fixing the jury system would be a great start, issues veritas. Judges have the power to throw out frivolous lawsuits, but many so-called "frivolous" suits are not frivolous at all. Most people do not understand that there is no such thing as a $10 million or $50 million lawsuit. It's totally meaningless when a lawyer throws a figure into his lawsuit. The amount of any award is strictly up to the jury, although many high awards are disallowed by appeals courts. What is really needed is a thorough study by a competent panel that will lead to the desired changes in the criminal justice system.


issues veritas 7 years ago

William,

I think we just turned a page


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 7 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Amen.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working