AP Language And Composition
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“I Can’t Wait For Jury Duty!” – Said No One, Ever Mark sits in a cramped basement. The room is quiet, even though there are other people in the room. Mark shakes his leg with impatience. He could be at work right now earning more money. He wonders why he has not been picked yet. Is it because he is African American or a sociology professor? Mark is a victim of the American Jury System. Even though the American jury system is constitutionally mandated, the current jury system must be reformed due to juror mistreatment, racial discrimination, and jury ignorance. The Constitution states, “The Sixth Amendment guarantees the rights of criminal defendants…the right to an impartial jury…” (LII Staff). Thomas Jefferson wrote the Sixth Amendment and thought a jury of peers was more important to than the right to vote. If it is so important, why does the jury system need to be reformed? After The People v Simpson, a study of juries revealed that “‘30 percent of the public [have] no confidence in the jury system’”. Why is that true? The answer is simple: the system has flaws.
The problem starts with the jury pool. To be a jury of your peers, the state randomly picks citizens of the United States in a certain jurisdiction and are at least eighteen years old to serve jury duty. Potential jurors are usually selected from a computer and sent summon papers. The papers are important and are legal documents. The process seems like a jury of your peers would be the result, but does it turn out that way? A jury’s role is important and there should be a new system to preserve its fairness. Everyone knows a jury’s job is crucial, but not everyone knows how much of a mental and physical toll the job may affect a juror. The responsibility of determining the rest of a person’s life could take a toll on a juror’s health. Explicit photos and detailed testimonies may be repeatedly used during a trial and leave lasting effects on a jury member. Juries are exposed to a fair amount of graphic material that they cannot prepare for (Johnson). Some jurors have even experienced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after the trial has ended. After the Casey Anthony trial, the jury remembered being “sick to their stomachs.”
Many also cried from relief (Johnson). Other jury members may experience a feeling of isolation. While a jury is made up of twelve members, a juror could feel alone and feel like he or she cannot console in the other members about how he or she is feeling. A jury cannot talk about the case with anyone and consoling in another person is a healthy way to relieve stress. Juries are not only affected by the material but also the people in the courtroom. Some jurors are scared that they will make the wrong conviction due to clever and sly lawyer tactics. Juries may also be intimidated by defendants, spectators, or anyone else in the courtroom. Intimidation comes from dirty looks, crude comments or demeaning gestures targeted towards a jury. Jury members can also be intimidated by other jury members. Jury members feel pressured to not speak out during deliberation, unless a juror finds someone else who agrees with his or her ideals. To preserve the jury’s health, judges need to realize the amount of traumatizing material presented in court and grant recesses and counseling for jury members.
The jury system is also inconsiderate of the jury’s time and money. After being chosen, jurors waste a great deal of time sitting by the phone waiting to know if they will need to serve in a case that day (DiPerna 26). Michael Walzer recalls his experience as a potential juror, “Four of five times I was called to sit there, for a couple of days or for a week, but never called to serve”. Walzer remembers how he had to sit in a basement while waiting for the screening process to end. He describes a room with no windows, minimal lighting, and uncomfortable furniture. Walzer is losing money while he sits in a basement. Jury duty affects the economy drastically. “Courts pay approximately $200 million a year to jurors for their services, and jury-related work absence costs the national economy about $1 billion”. The Center of Jury Studies focuses on making the jury system more cost-effective and systematic to improve the court system.
Court systems all around America are adopting the “one day/one trial” system. This system allows jurors to be discharged from their duty if they are not assigned to a case after one day. Racial discrimination is unfortunately evident in the American jury system. After the jury pool is shortened, lawyers begin to cut potential jurors who may oppose the lawyer’s objective. According to North Carolina’s jury selection records, prosecutors removed twenty percent of African Americans, yet only ten percent of whites from the jury pool. After more research, investigative journalists have found jury data from Mississippi and Louisiana that correspond with the data found in Carolina. The data also shows variety within the state: Prosecutors in urban areas, which tend to have larger minority populations, remove non-white jurors at a higher rate than prosecutors do in other parts of the state (Wright). African Americans are even removed from jury duty due to appearances that the prosecutors deem unacceptable.
African Americans have been excluded for hair color, walking style, and even assumed intelligence (“Illegal Racial Discrimination”). In response, more white jurors are removed than black jurors by defense lawyers (Wright). Defense lawyers recognize the racial discrimination in jury selection but do nothing to assert the problem. The defense is either not trained or not willing to fix the problem (“Illegal Racial Discrimination”). Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) was created to end racial injustice and protect citizens’ rights. EJI’s report discovers that hundreds of minorities are illegally dismissed because of unjustified and petty reasons. Diversity is a vital component in the American jury system. Studies show that a jury consisting of only one race does not consider or try to understand evidence like a diverse jury
will (Jonakait 281). It is effective to prove someone is guilty with a diverse jury because the diversity represents everyone. A juror with a different culture than the juror sitting next to them could help the other jurors understand the defendant’s actions or thought process. According to EJI’s Executive Director, Bryan Stevenson, “The underrepresentation and exclusion of people of color from juries has seriously undermined the credibility and reliability of the criminal justice system, and there is an urgent need to end this practice” (“Illegal Racial Discrimination”). How does the problem get fixed? The Washington Supreme Court adopted a rule that restricted attorneys from removing jurors based on questions that could pertain to race (Wright). …Mark Twain…said that “we have a jury system that is superior to any in the world, and its efficacy is only marred by the difficulty of finding twelve men everyday who don’t know anything and can’t read”. Jury ignorance is another flaw in the American jury system.
Attorney Jeffrey Lowry believes that juries are not perfect and that some cases may be too complex to have a jury trial. Since the law is so elaborate, it is challenging to simplify the law in terms that any regular person should be able to understand. While the judge gives the jury their instructions, many jurors daydream or fail to listen. If the jury consisted of more intelligent individuals, the jury would be more likely to comprehend the case (Clifford). Even though jury instructions were specific on reasonable doubt, still about half of juries are unaware of the law. Juries mostly recognize actions and emotions. Since they are caught up on actions, they rarely listen to what is being said. Professional jurors who understand the law would not easily be tricked to give in to the lawyer’s “show”. To combat theatrics, Thomas Sewell, an American economist, proposed the idea to put a barrier between the jury and the rest of the court during the trial. The purpose is to restrict the lawyers from seeing the jury’s appearances and expressions.
This makes the lawyers be straightforward and present their case without theatrics. To help the jury understand the case, the option of taking notes could help juror members make decisions later and clear up any confusion they may have. Some cases are not using juries because the case may be too complex and the jury may not be able to understand the technicalities. The jury system wants society to believe that a juror’s opinion matters. Does it really? Both the prosecution and defense are aware that opinions hinder the jury selection process. To combat this problem, the attorneys look for potential jurors who don’t have a standpoint on the issues in the case (Clifford). Former Manhattan prosecutor, Arlo Devlin-Brown, admitted that prosecutors look for people who are easily swayed by general opinion. Attorneys try to avoid people who would stick out or cause controversy (Clifford). According to Clifford, attorneys pick jurors “…[with] little exposure to the subject matter, who don’t follow the news, haven’t traveled to the places discussed at the trial and have pastimes as innocuous as possible.”
When it comes to the juror’s background, lawyers are allowed to ask almost any questions to know the potential juror. In certain cases, a potential juror can be dismissed for being an expert in a certain subject. In US v Shkreli, a broker-dealer manager was dismissed based on his knowledge of securities. To fix this problem, attorneys should only be allowed to ask certain questions and not assume anything of its potential jury. Most people would argue that the jury system keeps the government from holding too much power and abusing that power. A jury allows citizens to temporarily hold a powerful position. However, while the jury system gives citizens a powerful position, some jurors are uncomfortable or unsure in their position. Sometimes juries sacrifice impartial justice to political or ethical goals, so the jury is not any better than a corrupt leader. Others also believe that a jury is effective at listening to facts and making fair decisions, yet juries are not always effective at listening to facts.
“Jurors without the expertise to analyze specialized evidence may instead use lawyers’ storylines, or their own feelings about the defendant to decide a case”. Also, the fact that the jury system is constitutionally mandated and has been around since the discovery of America would be a fair argument to not reform the system. Even though the jury system is constitutionally mandated, before the fifteenth and nineteenth amendments, only white men could vote. Even though the Constitution mandated that only white men could vote, that did not mean it was right or not in need of a reform. While the American jury system can be an effective system, there is always room for improvement. Some supporters don’t want change because admitting that the democratic and constitutional government has errors is seen as unpatriotic. If America wants to see a change in the jury system, it will have to stray away from tradition and embrace policies from around the world.
Juries in England used to consist of twelve men who knew about issues surrounding the case and gave truthful evaluations to convict the suspects (Clifford). The system of “mixed courts” is used in West Germany. Judges act as the judge and jury to make up a panel. The panel is elected by the public and meets every month to discuss cases. If America cared more about the jury system and its jurors, the jury system must be reformed. Some people believe that the American jury system is effective to convict someone; nevertheless, the jury system must be reformed because of juror mistreatment, racial discrimination, and jury ignorance. It is evident that the American jury system has flaws that are unacceptable and must be addressed. A system made up of informed citizens allows for a fairer trial. The reformed jury system would help people like Mark not be dismissed as a juror because of his race or profession.
- Civil Justice Reform Task Force. “The Civil Jury System is Effective.” The Legal System: Opposing Viewpoints, by Tamara L. Roleff, Greenhaven Press, 1996, pp. 26-30.
- Clifford, Stephanie. “In Juries, Lawyers Now Favor the Uninformed.” New York Times, 19 July 2017. SIRS Issue Researcher, sks.sirs.com.
- DiPerna, Paula. Understanding the Jury System. Public Affairs Committee, Sept. 1983 “Illegal Racial Discrimination in Jury Selection: A Continuing Legacy.” Equal Justice
- Initiative, 2016, eji.org/reports/illegal-racial-discrimination-in-jury-selection. Johnson, Ruth L. “The Hidden Horrors of Jury Duty.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publisher,
- 16 Mar. 2015, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/so-sue-me/201503/the-hidden- Horrors-jury-duty.
- Jonakait, Randolph N. The American Jury System, Yale University Press, 2003. Proquest
- Ebook Central,ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/iuk-ebooks/detail.action?docID-34201 29.
- Kubicek, Theodore L. Adversarial Justice: America’s Court System on Trial, Algora Publishing, 2006. Proquest EbookCentralebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/iuk-ebooks/detail.action? docID-319231.
- LII Staff. “Sixth Amendment.” LII/Legal Information Institute, Legal Information Institute, 10 Oct. 2017, www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/sixth_amendment.
- Lind, Michael. “The Criminal Jury System Should Be Reformed.” The Legal System:
- Opposing Viewpoints, by Tamara L. Roleff, Greenhaven Press, 1996, pp.21-25.
- Lowry, Jeffrey A. “Re: Question(s).” Received by Kellie Cloutier, 22 Jan. 2019.
- Neubauer, David W. America’s Courts and the Criminal Justice System. Ninth ed., Thomson, 2008.
- Sleeper, Jim. “Daily Life and the Jury System.” Dissent, vol. 55, no. 1, Winter 2008, p. 27.
- EBSCOhost, doi:10.1353/dss.2008.0086. Walzer, Michael. “Waiting to Serve.” Dissent, vol. 55, no. 1, 2008, pp.29-30., doi:10.1353/dss.2008.0048.
- Wright, Ronald. “Yes, Jury Selection is Racist.” New York Times, 06 Dec. 2018, p. A31. SIRS Issue Researchers, sks.sirs.com.