Michael Tabman

Time for Professional Juries?

In Crime and Security, Uncategorized on July 25, 2011 at 3:16 pm

First, it was the OJ Trial. Recently, it was the Casey Anthony Trial.  Both of these high profile murder trials resulted in acquittals that created tremendous debate, hostility and even threats of violence directed at the jurors.  Being a juror is a tough job.  So tough, most of us go to great lengths to avoid jury service.

In addition to the personal sacrifices of time away from your job and home, being a juror, and holding the future, perhaps deciding between life and death, of another human being is an awesome responsibility.  Understanding the laws and applying them appropriately is just as difficult.  The application of complex legal processes is not easily learned on the job; nor is understanding the legal maneuvering, game playing and theatrics that we have witnessed in these trials. Yet, we have no patience, no compassion and no appreciation for a jury, who in the course of doing their duty to the best of their ability, does not decide the way we think they should have.

We know what should have been decided.  We would have done better.   Monday morning quarterbacking is so easy.

We must respect the jury and be grateful that the accused have their day in court and are tried by a jury of their peers.  But maybe it is time to consider that the average citizen who is chosen to sit on a jury is not necessarily qualified to do so. Reasonable doubt, circumstantial evidence, mode of death vs. cause of death, credibility, and a multitude of other legal definitions and concepts require formal education, such as what is provided in law school.  A few minutes of instruction from a judge does not suffice.

So what is the answer?  I propose a professional jury system.  Jurors should be trained in all aspects of our justice system. If they come to a trial with a firm grasp of the legal definitions, standards and concepts to which they will be exposed, they will be better equipped to make a fair and legal decision.  What would be the arguments against a professional jury system?

One argument is that a professional jury is not a jury of your peers.  I do not think formal training for average citizens disqualifies them as a jury of your peers.  The next argument would be that jurors who are paid by the State, have a conflict of interest – they are State employees and be biased in favor of the State.  I disagree. Judges are paid by the State; they do not (or should not have a bias).  Public Defenders are paid with State funds, yet their job is to defend their client as any attorney should. A professional jury, knowledgeable of the law, exposed to a variety of trials and legal strategies would be less likely to be distracted by irrelevant or prejudicial information and render fair decisions for both criminal and civil trials.

Professional jurors would alleviate the problems associated with calling people for jury duty. Jobs would be created. While creating and administering such a system is not without its challenges, I think it is worth the effort. Police Officers, Prosecutors, Defense Attorneys and Judges all go through extensive training before they are allowed to act officially and affect your life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

Why shouldn’t juries?

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