Jury System in USA Put on Trial

Historic Courtroom Still in Use

Historic courtroom still in use in Brockville, Ontario
Historic courtroom still in use in Brockville, Ontario
           O.J. Simpson with Dream Team lawyers  F. Lee Bailey and Johnnie Cochran.
O.J. Simpson with Dream Team lawyers F. Lee Bailey and Johnnie Cochran. | Source

The American judicial system, strained by 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 ongoing O.J. Simpson courtroom drama and the crime bill recently signed into law by President Clinton have placed the entire jury system on the front burner -- and on trial.

Prosecutorial Grandstanding

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.

Undesirable Laws

Through the years some undesirable laws and unwise judicial decisions have taken us too far afield. We 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 we 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 to get out of jail too early.

Nor do we have space to detail our frustrations with "sentencing guidelines" or the abuse of power by judges who are widely feared by nearly everyone.

Plea Bargaining Overused

We 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.

Let's talk ... 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 we can't improve what we 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.

We can do better -- if we try!

I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on Sept. 24, 1994. I now write my views on a wide variety of topics on HubPages. To view my HubPages Profile Click Here

Should the Jury Selection Process Be Amended?

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Comments 13 comments

MrMarmalade profile image

MrMarmalade 9 years ago from Sydney

it looks like it.

Yesterday we had outrage. A 10 year old girl was raped several times by six adult men several times.

The lady? Judge said the ten year had probably given these six adults permission to rape her.

Men get off scot free and young girl is banned

Some judge.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 9 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y. Author

Thank you, MrMarmalade. The average person has no idea of the power a judge wields. He not only can declare any critic to be in contempt of court, but lawyers who want to stay on his good side (if they expect to bring cases before him in the future) fear taking any view that the judge would find uncomfortable. Few judges are called to account for their misdeeds!


compu-smart profile image

compu-smart 9 years ago from London UK

Jurys should NOT be made of just ordinary people who have no idea of the judicial system at all..They should replace them with maybe retired lawers, army, police officers etc..

With regards to mr marmalades comment..Here in the UK, peadohiles get prison sentences which are much less than the average shop lifter! and they serve their time in prison in luxury in seperate wings with pool tables and more recreational luxurys that normal prisoners.. That is why they keep reoffending which makes me sick to the teeth!! I just wish i had the power to do something that will serve so well they would not dare look at another child let alone molest and rape them!! Grrr..

PS . I now have 105.7 in my favorites as i do love a good old debate..My fav UK talk staion in the UK which is the most popular is called LBC 97.3 fm. Their will always be a few fav presenters that will suit everyone.


Lorrie B. profile image

Lorrie B. 8 years ago

Whoa! The whole point of the jury system is that the "average person" is deemed to be the most reliably unaffected by the court system, politics, or alterior motives, which is why juries are comprised of citizens deemed to be "peers" of the defendant. Building juries of ex-law enforcement officers, lawyers, etc would definitely sully the pool by bringing a plethora of hidden agendas into the courtroom. Having faced the court system, charged with a crime I did NOT commkit, shackled to my chair and wearing handcuffs throughout the proceedings, I can tell you it's a pretty terrifying thing to realize that the law-enforcement officers, investogators, and DA's are fabricating evidence against you and lying through their teeth while making up ridiculous theories and presenting them as the "most reasonable conclusion". It's scarier still when the judge swallows it and your entire defense is written off. This is how innocent people get rail-roaded into taking plea agreements in order to avoid lengthy prison terms...and it happens every single day.So as far as comprising juries of only ex-law-enforcement officials, my vote would be a resounding "No way, no how".Purely just my opinions, and I respect yours as well.Blessings...LorrieB


William F. Torpey profile image

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

I fully agree, Lorrie B. Unfortunately, our jury selection system (voir dire) is badly flawed, which I suspect is at the heart of compu-smart's comment. Too often we don't end up with the "average citizen." The adversary system may work well during the argument phase of the trial, but jury selection is another story. Prospective jurors do not always tell the whole truth, especially in high-profile cases where some people will say anything to get on the jury; others will say anything to get off the jury. I would much prefer that jurors be selected in a jury pool, not for a specific trial, to insure their qualifications, and then be drawn by a lottery for a specific trial. That's what I call an unbiased jury! As I've written in another hub, the "Jury System Could Use an Overhaul."


Lorrie B. profile image

Lorrie B. 8 years ago

Awesome ideas, William! I like the thought of a jury pool then the lottery system per trial. Especially for high-profile cases, that would be a solution to MANY problems encountered with choosing a jury. But then all the "expert jury consultants" who help attorneys to choose their jurors would be out of work! Would a more fair jury selection system contribute to the unemployment rate? (Joking, I hope you realize!) Anyway, I really appreciated your thoughts!


William F. Torpey profile image

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

Thank you very much, Lorrie. I'd love to see these ideas implemented (even if a few expert jury consultants do lose their jobs!)


issues veritas 7 years ago

William,

I don't know why people can't click a few buttons to take your poll and at the same time see the poll results.

I have written about the juries in my hubs, and I think it can be improved.

There is no such thing, as a jury of your peers.

For many criminals, their peers are behind bars.

In a criminal trial the only people not getting paid for being there are the jury members and the defendant. The jurors should be paid, if not with money at least with tax credits.

The biggest impediment to an impartial jury is the media. The media sets the stage for the jurors and conditions their response. The high profile cases are the training films for all jurors.

good hub.


William F. Torpey profile image

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

When I was on jury duty in Connecticut, issues veritas, jurors received a small (and I mean "small") allowance for their time. However, since I was in court, and thus not on the job, I received my normal salary but my employer confiscated my small court alllowance. As a news reporter and editor most of my life, I can tell you that news coverage of crimes, arrests and court proceedings is not something we want to abandon. Courts do attempt to take such publicity into consideration both in voir dire and in changes of venue.


issues veritas 7 years ago

William,

You were lucky there a few private sector companies out there that will pay full salary for Jury Duty. In addition, there are millions of independent contractors that get paid by the hour. If they don't work, they don't get paid.

When I mentioned media, it is the current cable TV media that doesn't simply report the news it opines on the news.

Your last sentence on publicity should also include the opines. And there is the tube of toothpaste analogy, once the toothpaste is squeezed out, it doesn't easily go back into the tube.

Also, even though the judge may rule that an answer to a question is stricken from the record and the jury instructed to disregard it. Not likely, just because of human nature.

 


William F. Torpey profile image

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

It is unfortunate, issues veritas, that news and commentary have been intertwined so greatly on television, primarily, that the average viewer would be hard pressed to tell you the difference. Nevertheless, courts do try to see to it that people are not unfairly biased by the radio, newspaper and television reports they see and hear about the case they must decide. Any judicial system will always depend on the ability of the jurors to be objective. It's for that reason that we must continue to strive for objectivity, fairness, justice and certainty in every trial.


issues veritas 7 years ago

William,

I think we just turned another page


William F. Torpey profile image

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

That's OK, issues veritas. It's a big book!

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