The Right to A Free Trial

The Right to A Free Trial :

One of the most important freedoms in the American judicial system is the right to a jury trial. This allows a minimum of six Americans, chosen from a list of registered voters, to determine a person's guilt or innocence through deliberations. They have the power to express the conscious of society as well as interpret and judge the laws themselves. If they feel that a law is unconstitutional, evil, or even unfair they can void it for the circumstance by declaring the defendant not-guilty. The power of the jury is enormous and through time has become more equitable by decreasing the limitations to become a juror including race and sex. Part of the reasoning behind the right to a jury trial 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 harming others. As someone once said that Power corrupts sometimes but absolute power corrupts absolutely. Many people thought anarchy would form through the use of a jury system, but no such thing has occurred. It has produced a feeling of involvement in the judicial system and government itself. Throughout this essay, a comparison of a real jury, a simulated jury and Hollywood's perception of a jury will be discussed. The television special, Inside the Jury Room, showed a videotaping of a real life jury as seen in a small criminal courtroom. The case was Wisconsin versus Leroy Reed, a criminal trial for the possession of a firearm by an ex-convict. The simulated jury concerned an ex-military man who shot two police officers, killing one and seriously injuring another. The police had broken 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. The Hollywood version, titled 12 Angry Men, revolved around a teenage boy who was accused of murdering his father and could possibly lose his life if found guilty. The topics of jury selection and appearance, the jurors understanding of their significance and the deliberation and verdict will be examined for the three juries. The actual jury itself has much bearing on how a verdict will result. Are the members compassionate? Rigid? Black? White? Rich? Or Poor? All of these factors can influence a jury; this is why lawyers are so critical when making their decisions. In the past, juries only admitted white males as in 12 Angry Men. Discrimination against blacks has always existed and until the fifteenth amendment was passed, and the Grandfather Clause, White Primaries, and literacy 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 came from meager backgrounds, yet they all act as if they were solvent. Also, the men were adorned with professional attire. In contrast, Inside the Jury Room chose a group of jurors of mixed ethnic backgrounds and genders, in various occupational settings. There were psychiatrists, teachers and business people with many different life experiences. Also, the dress was not at all formal. The differences among the jurors contributed greatly to the insight and opinions shared about the case. A psychiatrist was able to give her professional opinion on the man's condition, mental retardation while others could be more objective. A well-rounded jury can, in my opinion, produce a more educated and thought-out verdict. In the simulated jury, the jurors were selected randomly and personal opinions and biases were not considered. This affected the decision tremendously. The majority of Maymester students is reverse-transfer students and tends to be, statistically, more conservative and tough than normal community college students. Ergo, the verdict was not fairly considered from a wide array of viewpoints. To the lawyer and the defendant, jury selection is probably the most important vehicle for attaining a verdict that is favorable to their position. One major problem in having average citizens making such important, even life threatening decisions, is that often jurors do not understand how significant of a role they are playing in the process. During Inside the Jury Room, due to Leroy's retardation, the jury felt that the case never should have come to trial. He did not understand what he was doing wrong and he was of no danger to society. One juror called it a waste of time and a Mickey Mouse case. 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 juror is an important role and nonchalance can cost an innocent man his freedom or release a guilt man. After voting and discussions, the jury finally realized their 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 their significance and was ready to send a teenager to death without even a discussion. Baseball tickets and the overwhelming heat concerned the jurors more than the actual case. Some members played games and told business stories rather than pay attention. It was not until key points expressing doubt in the boy's guilt appeared that everyone realized their significance. Life experiences and stubbornness still prevented many of the jurors from understanding the concept of reasonable doubt. In the jury simulation, the jurors did not understand their importance due to their knowledge of the case being imaginary. Hopefully, a verdict would be discussed and deliberated more thoroughly in a realistic situation. Only one juror splintered from the majority to promote a debate and discuss the crime in relation to the punishment. The exasperated members seemed more focused on concluding the class session than on producing justice. Hence, until pointed out, juries seldom realize their significance in the judicial system. Throughout time, deliberations have stayed predominantly similar. During Inside the Jury Room, the judges told them to consider the questions…Did he know he was a convict? Did he know he bought a handgun? and did he know he could not own a handgun? If these were all true, then Leroy Reed should be found guilty. The judge did not tell them that they still had the power to produce a not guilty verdict. The members started by choosing a foreman and continued by discussing each individual's opinions and views on the case. Immediately afterwards, the jury took a secret ballot paper vote to retain some anonymity. They then followed a continuous pattern of discussing their differences and taking votes until a unanimous verdict was reached. They concluded that the man did not have the ability to understand the law nor what crime 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 votes predominantly in lieu of paper ballot votes. One major problem among this jury was 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…although realistically, no jury would have discovered points such as the glasses and the stab wound. Another negative aspect of the case is that members tried to pressure others until a common verdict was met. In a positive light, when the last guilty man decided to understand his verdict, the other jurors wanted him to believe in his decision and not just go along with the majority. A not guilty verdict was eventually reached due to doubt, not necessarily innocence. In the jury simulation, the jurors took an initial vote for first and second degree murder. Then they produced a vote for voluntary manslaughter. Next a discussion to overcome the obstacles occurred until a unanimous verdict was reached. Our jury decided that the man was guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Due to a split initially between voluntary manslaughter and self-defense, a punishment of five years, a minimum for the crime committed, was issued to the man. Deliberations are consistent and have not changed significantly throughout the years. What is justice? According to Noah Webster, Justice is the use of authority and power to uphold what is right, just, or lawful. Justice was served in all three cases because they were thoroughly deliberated and considered. When sufficient doubt was present, a not-guilty verdict was passed. 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 the appearance, and unbiased opinions of the members. The judicial system is the only part of government with little corruption; due strongly to the jury procedure. Through the years, specifics have changed in our juries, but the same basic concepts and procedures still exist today. The right to a jury is one of America's greatest rights and will hopefully remain that way for years to come.

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