One of the most important freedoms in the American judicial system isthe right to a jury trial. This allows a minimum of six Americans, chosen froma list of registered voters, to determine a person’s guilt or innocence throughdeliberations. They have the power to express the conscious of society as wellas interpret and judge the laws themselves. If they feel that a law isunconstitutional, evil, or even unfair they can void it for the circumstance bydeclaring the defendant not-guilty. The power of the jury is enormous andthrough time has become more equitable by decreasing the limitations to become ajuror including race and sex. Part of the reasoning behind the right to a jurytrial is to limit government power. Although judges should be fair and just,total power is too strong, and could be used to aid some people while harmingothers.
As someone once said, Power corrupts sometimes, but absolute powercorrupts absolutely. Many people thought anarchy would form through the use ofa jury system, but no such thing has occurred. It has produced a feeling ofinvolvement in the judicial system and government itself. Throughout this essay,a comparison of a real jury, a simulated jury, and Hollywood’s perception of ajury will be discussed. The television special, Inside the Jury Room, showed avideotaping of a real life jury as seen in a small criminal courtroom. The casewas Wisconsin v.
Leroy Reed, a criminal trial for the possession of a firearm byan ex-convict. The simulated jury concerned an ex-military man who shot twopolice officers, killing one and seriously injuring another. The police hadbroken into his house because there was probable cause to believe he had drugs.The man shot the officers because he thought they were robbing his house. TheHollywood version, titled 12 Angry Men, revolved around a teenage boy who wasaccused of murdering his father and could possibly lose his life if found guilty.
The topics of jury selection and appearance, the jurors understanding of theirsignificance, and the deliberation and verdict will be examined for the threejuries.The actual jury itself, has much bearing on how a verdict will result.Are the members compassionate? Rigid? Black? White? Rich? or Poor? All ofthese factors can influence a jury; this is why lawyers are so critical whenmaking their decisions. In the past, juries only admitted white males, as in 12Angry Men. Discrimination against blacks has always existed; and until thefifteenth amendment was passed, and the Grandfather Clause, White Primaries, andliteracy test were declared unconstitutional, they could not vote. Women,although the population’s majority, were the last to be given suffrage rights.
The men in the movie seemed affluent and business-like. Some of the men camefrom meager backgrounds, yet they all act as if they were solvent. Also, the menwere adorned with professional attire. In contrast, Inside the Jury Room chosea group of jurors of mixed ethnic backgrounds and genders, in variousoccupational settings. There were psychiatrists, teachers, and business peoplewith many different life experiences. Also, the dress was not at all formal.The differences among the jurors contributed greatly to the insight and opinionsshared about the case.
A psychiatrist was able to give her professional opinionon the man’s condition, mental retardation, while others could be moreobjective. A well-rounded jury can, in my opinion, produce a more educated andthought-out verdict. In the simulated jury, the jurors were selected randomlyand personal opinions and biases, were not considered. This affected thedecision tremendously.
The majority of Maymester students are reverse-transferstudents and tend to be, statistically, more conservative and tough than normalcommunity college students. Ergo, the verdict was not fairly considered from awide array of viewpoints. To the lawyer and the defendant, jury selection isprobably the most important vehicle for attaining a verdict that is favorable totheir position.One major problem in having average citizens making such important, evenlife threatening decisions, is that often jurors do not understand howsignificant of a role they are playing in the process.
During Inside the JuryRoom, due to Leroy’s retardation, the jury felt that the case never should havecome to trial. He did not understand what he was doing wrong and he was of nodanger to society. One juror called it a waste of time and a Mickey Mousecase. Another juror would not even formulate an opinion for the group.
Rather,he said he did not care, but would go along with the majority. Being a juroris an important role, and nonchalance can cost an innocent man his freedom, orrelease a guilt man. After voting and discussions, the jury finally realizedtheir power, and decided they had a purpose beyond the basic criteria and laws.12 Angry Men, as well, displays a jury who originally did not comprehend theirsignificance and was ready to send a teenager to death without even a discussion.Baseball tickets and the overwhelming heat concerned the jurors more than theactual case.Some members played games and told business stories rather thanpay attention. It was not until key points expressing doubt in the boy’s guiltappeared that everyone realized their significance.
Life experiences andstubbornness still prevented many of the jurors from understanding the conceptof reasonable doubt. In the jury simulation, the jurors did not understandtheir importance due to their knowledge of the case being imaginary.Hopefully, a verdict would be discussed and deliberated more thoroughly in arealistic situation. Only one juror splintered from the majority to promote adebate, and discuss the crime in relation to the punishment. The exasperatedmembers seemed more focused on concluding the class session, than on producingjustice. Hence, until pointed out, juries seldom realize their significance inthe judicial system.
Throughout time, deliberations have stayed predominantly similar.During Inside the Jury Room, the judges told them to consider the questions: Didhe know he was a convict?; Did he know he bought a handgun?; and did he know hecould not own a handgun? If these were all true, then Leroy Reed should befound guilty. The judge did not tell them that they still had the power toproduce a not guilty verdict. The members started by choosing a foreman andcontinued by discussing each individual’s opinions and views on the case.
Immediately afterwards, the jury took a secret ballot paper vote to retain someanonymity. They then followed a continuous pattern of discussing theirdifferences and taking votes until a unanimous verdict was reached. Theyconcluded that the man did not have the ability to understand the law nor whatcrime he committed, and thus, nullified the law for Leroy Reed. 12 Angry Men,followed the same procedures except for the fact that they took hand votespredominantly in lieu of paper ballot votes. One major problem among this jurywas the concept that he was guilty until proven innocent rather than the reverse.They looked at the guilty evidence as proof, and reasonable doubt was dismissed.This case did show an ideal picture of good winning over evil; althoughrealistically, no jury would have discovered points such as the glasses and thestab wound.
Another negative aspect of the case is that members tried topressure others, until a common verdict was met. In a positive light, when thelast guilty man decided to acquiesce his verdict, the other jurors wanted himto believe in his decision and not just go along with the majority. A notguilty verdict was eventually reached due to doubt, not necessarily innocence.In the jury simulation, the jurors took an initial vote for first and seconddegree murder. Then they produced a vote for voluntary manslaughter.
Next adiscussion to overcome the obstacles occurred until a unanimous verdict wasreached. Our jury decided that the man was guilty of voluntary manslaughter.Due to a split initially between voluntary manslaughter and self-defense, apunishment of five years, a minimum for the crime committed, was issued to theman. Deliberations are consistent and have not changed significantly throughoutthe years.What is justice? According to Noah Webster, Justice is the use ofauthority and power to uphold what is right, just, or lawful.(1, 993)Justicewas served in all three cases because they were thoroughly deliberated andconsidered.
When sufficient doubt was present, a not guilty verdict waspassed. Cases were re-created bringing all point-of-views to light. The in-class simulation was more similar to that of Inside the Jury Room due to theappearance, and unbiased opinions of the members. The judicial system, is theonly part of government with little corruption; due strongly to the juryprocedure. Through the years, specifics have changed in our juries, but thesame basic concepts and procedures still exist today. The right to a jury, isone of America’s greatest rights and will hopefully remain that way for years tocome.