Flawed Notion of Justice: A Jury of Peers

A Rant by Samson Soledad . . .

I’m sitting in the cavernous jury lounge after having drawn the winning lottery ticket known as a jury duty summons. Given the opportunity to participate in our incredible democracy, I have barely managed to remain conscious during the government-produced film on the privileges and benefits of my service on a jury.  When the film finally suggests that jury service is a great way to meet new friends, I cannot dismiss the sudden powerful vision that our government should not be permitted to produce videos of any sort.

The right of a trial by a jury of one’s peers is a very compelling notion.  Of course, when it was first devised, most of our population had first-hand experience with the sort of justice permitted by a monarch seeking to squeeze taxes out of his colonies. As I look around the lounge, I can sense that there are individuals who believe in the process and are genuinely willing to serve their community.  But most are just trying to get through their forced detention on a day they cannot work, pick up their kids from school or figure a way to make their car payment.  So I sit, surrounded by last year’s magazines, pondering the wisdom of a system where one’s peers decides the fate of the combatants in their quest for justice.

The indoctrinator in the front of the lounge, has assured us that all we need to bring is our common sense and to remain open-minded until the end of the trial.  The assurance includes a fool-proof method of filtering out those who have a bias that could affect their objectivity.  That method is the Voir dire of jurors to dismiss those who have an apparent bias. But wait a minute!   Somehow over the last 200 odd years, an industry has appeared and flourished known to the legal profession as jury consultants.  Again, the notion is that they are schooled in the psychology of jurors to learn who will possess a bias that will be swayed by a lawyer’s arguments.  These jury consultants are not being paid a small fortune to find the most objective and fair jurors.  No, they’re being paid to find the jurors that will have a bias or proclivity to support your argument.  Most often, that is synonymous with finding the most malleable juror who will choose a side that supports his own biased emotion.  So much for a jury of one’s peers.

The indoctrinator also suggests that the alternative, a professional jury, is one that is subject to taint and corruption.  But does that really make sense?  Let’s take a look at the concept of a professional juror.  Have you ever seen a 21 year-old judge?  Of course not!  A 21 year-old does not have the maturity, life experience or education to oversee the laws of our judiciary.  So the first obstacle for a lawyer is the roll of the dice that secures a judge in his case.  The lawyers all know the biases and proclivities of all the judges on the bench.  Whether a flaming liberal or a heartless fascist, our lawyer is forced to construct his case with the judge’s biases in mind. Not so with the jury.  Here they employ jury consultants to orchestrate their rejections of the jurors least likely to be swayed by their arguments.  The process uses statistical analysis to determine their best shot at . . .  winning!   Forget justice!

So let us consider the alternative of the professional juror.  They could be chosen, perhaps even using those same jury consultants, except with a different agenda.  Their agenda would be to find those most likely to to be qualified and objective to serve on a jury.  Next, they would be educated and licensed to be knowledgeable in the laws and judicial processes they must use to decide a case.  And they would be paid for their service.  Yes, paid!  In criminal cases the cost would be borne by the taxpayers, but in civil trials, it would be by the parties in the case.  What would keep them from being corrupted?  Like the lawyers who plead their cases, the loss of their license and the challenging, intellectually stimulating profession they had qualified for. Like the selection of their judge, lawyers would be subject to the jury chosen by an impartial computer. 

There would still be the opportunity to reject a juror that had a conflict of interest, but the new professional jury would be committed, objective, knowledgeable and capable of actually finding a just decision. We did it this very same thing with our military.  We used to draft our young men to go to war.  Most of the draftees weren’t committed to being warriors.  We fought our wars by overwhelming numbers of men and machines to blow the enemy to oblivion.  Our enemies used the very same technique. Then, we evolved to have an all-volunteer military.  The change created a military comprised of those who were endowed with the sensibilities of a warrior.  Forged with a proud sense of patriotism, and a military education, they take their responsibility seriously.  They are proud to serve in the best military on the planet.  Why is it insane to think that a professional jury pool wouldn’t place people committed to justice, to take their positions as seriously as our soldiers?

Here’s an idea. . . Instead of changing the system all at once, why not try it out in one city or county.  See how it works!  Have monitors checking, asking questions and a panel of our best and brightest, to conclude whether this system would be a better alternative to drafting jurors under penalty of fines and imprisonment. There would no longer be a need for a cavernous jury lounge.  A computer-selected jury and alternates would just show up for their assigned trial.  And the computer could even be programmed to select jurors with experience in the likely subject matter to be covered in the trial.  Imagine a jury where the jurors actually know as much about the trial process as the lawyers. It would no doubt require the lawyers to construct a case for a more capable, committed jury, but I suppose the extra work would be a justification to raise their hourly rates.

Oh hell!  Was that my name they just called over the loudspeaker?

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