Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Jury Duty

What is the job of the jury? Is the jury's job to determine whether a person broke the law? Or is the jury's job to see that justice is done?

Let's say a man is on a jury. (I know this man well.) The case before him is a hit-and-run that killed a woman. This should be an open-and-shut case. However, the prosecutor is going to be on the ballot for an elected position, and he wants to look "tough on crime." So he goes for a charge of first-degree murder. The jury can't agree to that. The man was not guilty of pre-meditated murder. What he did was heinous, but it was recklessness and drunkenness. The community is shocked that the murderer could be freed. The instructions to the jury, however, were to determine whether the man had broken the law he was accused of. And he hadn't.

And then there are other possibilities. Let's say a person has a gun in a "no-gun zone." He is not intending to do any harm. Maybe a gun sat in the trunk of a teacher's car in the school parking lot. Or what if we make smoking illegal, and then someone lights up a cigarette in a public building? Do we find people "guilty" even if the law they broke was an unjust or unreasonable law?

A jury is the final chance for justice to be done:
for the guilty to be sentenced even if the charge against him cannot be substantiated, but he is clearly guilty of a lesser charge or if technicalities get in the way of his conviction,
and for the "guilty" to be let go if the law he broke is a bad law.
For more information, check out the Fully Informed Jury Association. I don't agree with everything there. But there is some basic information there that judges and the rest of the legal system do not want us to know about.

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