Some Thoughts on the Jury System

By Steve McNichols

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This is an unpublished article dealing with the history and principles behind the jury system in the United States today.

The verdicts in the Rodney King beating case, the Menendez brothers murder trial and the O.J. Simpson trial stirred up a tremendous amount of controversy and discussion about the jury system. We now have politicians and various citizen groups calling for changes that range from using professional jurors, to changing the jury selection process, to eliminating the requirement of unanimous jury verdicts in most criminal cases. The purpose of the article is to analyze and discuss some of the proposed changes.The jury system enchants us and disgusts us because it exposes in a dramatic way the virtues and vices of democratic society. In Athens jurors sentenced Socrates to death for religious crimes against the state, but in England jurors went to prison rather than convict Quaker William Penn. In Colonial America, jurors refused to convict smugglers who violated the British import taxes that they felt were unjust because they were made without American representation in Parliament. Juries in the South freed vigilantes who lynched Black Americans, while in the North they refused to convict fugitive slaves and the abolitionists who helped them escape. A jury recently acquitted police officers who could be seen on video tape brutally delivering over eighty blows to a prostrate Rodney King, another jury failed to reach a verdict in the Menendez brothers murder trial in spite of their confession and overwhelming evidence of their guilt, and O.J. Simpson goes free in the face of compelling evidence against him. We can all point to miscarriages of justice perpetrated by the jury system as well as courageous juries willing to protect dissenters and outcasts from their fellow citizens and the government.

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