The Broken Jury System in America

On November 12, a jury in Cincinnati, Ohio could not reach a verdict in the trial of a former police officer, charged with murder in the fatal shooting of an unarmed motorist. The jury spent 25 hours deliberating and indicated to the judge several times that tgeybwere deadlocked before the judge agreed. The prosecution will try to retry the case, and is currently attempting to move the case to a different jurisdiction due to the jurors fear of being identified because of the nature of the case.

Also on December 5 a jury in North Charleston, South Carolina  failed to reach a verdict in the trial of a former South Carolina Police officer charged with fatally shooting an unarmed motorist he had pulled over for broken tail lights after he was running away from him. After 48 hours of deliberating, a single juror in a note to the judge said he cannot in good conscience consider a guilty verdict. The foreman of the jury in a separate note said the group was mostly in agreement that the officer should be convicted. He said “It is one juror that is having issues. That juror needs to leave.” However on Monday morning, the jury said in another note that most of it’s members were still undecided. The judge declared a mistrial on Monday. The prosecution said they will attempt to try the case again.

On December 2nd, a new trial was scheduled for a former Tucson fire captain, accused of killing three women. His first trial ended in a mistrial after a hung jury on November 22nd. The next trial is expected to last more for seven weeks. The defendant is still being held in custody, with a $900,000 cash bond. It is unknown whether he will remain in jail for the period of the entire trial. There have been other hung juries in the span of time too. One in Fall River, Massachusetts and one in Lebanon, Ohio. All of them homicides.

The American Judicial system relies a lot on the jury system. Perhaps too much, in one’s opinion. A federal indictment requires a grand jury which consists of 16 to 23 jurors, to present an indictment after reviewing the evidence. State criminal cases are often tried by a petit jury consisting of about 6- 12 jurors. Some civil cases are also tried by juries. In all these cases, the jury’s decision had to be unanimous. Only one juror, who disagrees with the others can cause a hung jury. A jury’s guilty verdict can occasionally be overturned by a judge if the defense provides sufficient evidence of foul play during an appeal, although this hardly ever happens. A not-guilty verdict cannot be overturned.

When a mistrial occurs, the prosecution has the opportunity to try the case an infinite number of times. However, due to budgetary reasons, or if the prosecution feels like he cannot obtain a guilty verdict, the case might be dismissed, and the defendant goes free. The prosecution usually gives up after two or three mistrials. However a retrial means that the case is reset, a new jury pool is selected, often a new judge is assigned to the case. New witness statements, and strategies are also implemented. It can take as long as the original trial, which in most criminal cases, spans from three to eighteen months or longer. It is in most cases a nightmare for both sides.

This shaky and insufficient system has it’s demerits. Juries are regular people, who can be coerced, paid off or in extreme cases eliminated by the defense or prosecution in order to get a mistrial (in the case of the defendant) or a guilty or not-guilty verdict. Even in cases where there is overwhelming evidence of the defendant’s guilt, the jury can decide to issue a not-guilty verdict (called Jury Nullification), if they believe the defendant shouldn’t be punished for the crime. The judge cannot overturn that verdict. That decision can arise from sympathy or even coercion, as the court does not take effort to protect the privacy or identity of jurors (except in rare- usually high profile cases), and jurors name are public records. A few states are trying to introduce legislation that will protect the names and addresses of jurors, but in most states, juror names are public records.

The jury systems has it’s advantages. In the defendants case, since the jury is made up of his/her peers, they can have sympathy for the defendant, in cases that are not so black and white. The jury decision is often accepted by the public, and it provides certainty, and it creates a formidable check against state power. However, juries can be biased. The jury selection pool is designed to remove potentially biased jurors, and while I may be effective sometimes, a biased juror is often allowed to seep through the cracks and undermine the whole case with their prejudice. Juries are often susceptible to emotion, and are often swayed by either the defense attorney, or the prosecutor. Most jurors do not have a background in law, medicine or any related field, and sometimes fail to understand certain complex ideas, or terms; a factor which the attorney often preys upon. Juries are easily manipulated by attorneys with statements in the courtroom, which the judge often tells the jury to ‘disregard’, but in most cases, it often plays a factor in their decision. This is a shaky system at best.

Should the jury system be discontinued? Some may say yes, some may disagree and say that it is an integral part in America’s judicial system and should not be abolished. However this system needs to be re-examined and certain measures should be put in place to ensure that this broken system is fixed and justice is served accordingly. It needs to ensure that the guilty is punished, and the innocents are freed. After all, it only takes one biased juror to send an innocent man to his death.

 

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