Jury Trial – A jail free card for criminals and a death sentence for the innocent
When there are two opposing parties in a case often their facts do not match. It is hard to convince one judge about who is telling the truth. His prejudices and personal opinions might sway the truth. Therefore, a group of individuals who are picked at random uses logic and reason to identify who is telling the truth. This group is formally known as a jury.
According to the American bar association, A jury is a group of people summoned and sworn to decide on the facts in issue at a trial. The jury is composed of people who represent a cross-section of the community. The jury listens to the evidence during a trial, decides what facts the evidence has established, and draws inferences from those facts to form the basis for their decision. The jury decides whether a defendant is “guilty” or “not guilty” in criminal cases, and “liable” or “not liable” in civil cases.
In theory, the concept of a jury makes sense. Giving the power to the common man and allowing him to chose whether the presented facts is true or not and therefore deciding if a person is guilty or not. But the reality is that often the jury system has a lot of flaws. The jurors are selected by both parties in the case. This can be completely done based on sex, religion, skin colour etc. They aren’t chosen based on their ability to reason or use logic but simply based on their position in society and whether they would empathise with the respective parties.
Therefore, one of the fundamental issues with jurors is the fact that they may get swayed in their decision making by emotional or irrational factors. Another issue with the jurors is their inability to understand complex laws or different complex scientific methods used by forensic experts. This is why defence lawyers often chose individuals who are employed in fields further away from science and law.
Another major argument used by pro jurors is that a group of 12 jurors are more likely to not get swayed by their emotions but the reality is that out of the 12 jurors if one of them is able to convince the rest then the decision gets changed. This is because often jurors are unsure of their own decision and do not want the blood of an innocent man on their hand. So, if there is just one individual who gives a strong opinion, they’re likely to follow that. This concept is explored in the movie ‘12 angry men’.
Another fundamental issue with jurors is the fact that they don not need to give any explanation to their verdict. This concept is illogical and does not help with the future. Only if a proper reason is given as to why a party lost can they make the necessary changes in their arguments while appealing to higher courts. Jurors must realize that they are setting a precedence for future cases and must therefore take the necessary steps to ensure they come to the right decision.
A study conducted by a Northwestern University statistician concluded that out of 217 cases from four states. 1 out of 8 cases were given a wrong verdict by the jury. Some cases that were similarly wrongly decided by the jury is discussed below:
The Walter McMillian case
Ronda Morrison was an 18-year-old girl who worked par time at a dry cleaner. One Saturday morning at 10:45 customers found Rhonda’s dead body at the dry cleaners. The police found bullets and discovered that the body had been sexually assaulted. The case quickly became a high profile one and there was huge pressure on the police department and for seven months there was no suspect. This was when Ralph Myers was arrested for murdering a woman in Alabama. He was questioned about the murder of Ronda Morrison and later confessed to driving Mr. McMillian to the dry cleaner and later heard gunshots.
The reason Mr. McMillian was chosen as a target for this case was because he had an affair with a white woman. The prosecutor used Ralph Myers testimony as the major evidence along with two other witnesses who claimed to have seen McMillian’s low rider truck. It should also be mentioned here that the case was moved to a county with predominantly white people and therefore the jury consisted of 11 white people and 1 African American. Even though McMillians attorney provided 6 eye witnesses to testify that McMillian was in fact at a fish fry during the time of the crime, the jury still found McMillian guilty even after a lack of clear physical evidence and an unreliable testimony. Mr. McMillian was sentenced to death row and would have seen his life end in prison if it wasn’t Mr. Bryan Stevenson who repealed the case in court after Ralph Myers confessing to conspire with the police officers and lied about the testimony which acquitted Mr. McMillian.
One of the most famous failures of a jury was the case of The People vs. O.J. Simpson. Nicole Brown Simpson, O.J. Simpson’s ex-wife, and Ron Goldman were brutally murdered in Nicole’s home. Hair found in cap at the Bundy residence matched Simpson’s hair. A bloody glove found at the scene of the crime matched Simpson’s blood. Blood found on Simpson’s socks and his Bronco matched that of the victims. Simpson also had a fresh cut on his hand. There was so much more evidence to point to the fact that O.J. Simpson committed the murder but was acquitted of all charges. The reason for this is America has had a problem of black people being incriminated of crimes they didn’t commit this led to lead to a large outrage and with the arrest of the childhood hero O.J. Simpson the people decided to draw the line. The jury consisted of 9 black people, 1 white, 1 Hispanic and 1 half white-half black. Also, the defence was able to prove that the detective on the case was a known racist and therefore this created a lot of doubt in the juror’s minds. But it was clear that before the trial started the community saw Mr. Simpson as a free man. A civil case convicted O.J. Simpson later.
In India the first Jury trial took place in Madras 1665. This ended in 1973 with the use of Code of Criminal Procedure 1973. The popular Nanavati case was said to be the last nail in the coffin for jury trials in India. Nanavati was accused of murdering his wife’s lover Ahuja. Even after incriminating evidence the jury acquitted Nanavati of all charges. The Bombay High Court reversed the decision after a bench trial and convicted Nanavati. West Bangal had jury trials till 1973 but after that India only uses a judge bench trial.
Author: Ben Jose Jose,
IFIM Law School, 1st Year