Jury System Could Use an Overhaul
Trial Judge in O.J. Simpson Case
Orenthal James 'O.J.' Simpson
Would You Favor Selection of Jury By Lot Among Citizens in the District?
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.