Should We Abolish the Jury System?
On Tuesday, a Florida jury found Casey Anthony not guilty of first-degree murder in the death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee Marie.
As so often happens in high profile cases, the jury was wrong.
Casey clearly murdered her daughter. Her mom, Cindy, reported that Caylee was missing on July 15, 2008. Casey’s cover story was unbelievably ridiculous. When Casey’s mom, Cindy, confronted Casey at Casey’s boyfriend’s apartment, Casey actually claimed that a random baby sitter nobody had ever met had taken Caylee away over a month beforehand.
Cindy called the cops, informing them, “I found my daughter’s car today. And it smells like there’s been a dead body in the damn car.” Sure enough, cadaver dogs identified the trunk of Casey’s car as a dead body location, and scientists confirmed that a body had decomposed back there. A few months after a jury indicted Casey, police found Caylee’s corpse in the woods near Casey’s home, duct tape on her head.
The defense did a Johnny Cochrane routine – they blamed everybody within a 10 mile radius of the murder for the murder. Defense attorney Jose Baez suggested that Casey’s dad, George, had sexually abused her during her childhood, without any evidence whatsoever. Baez also claimed that Caylee had drowned in the pool while George was at home, and that George had been involved in dumping the body.
There was no evidence to any of this. It was pure conjecture, a sociopathic response to being caught red-handed. And Casey Anthony is a sociopath: outwardly charming, pathologically lying, indecently self-centered, lacking in shame or guilt, promiscuous, exploitative and irresponsible, and willing to hurt anyone and everyone in order to get her way.
So, why did the jury acquit her? Because the jury system, as currently run, is stupid.
Yes, jury trial is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution (although only with regard to federal cases). It was originally considered a hallmark of civilized criminal justice because citizens did not want to be subjected to government inquisitions, with the court stacked against them. Juries were supposed to be a bulwark against governmental encroachment.
Nowadays, juries have become a hallmark of our heavily bureaucratized system. Those who have day jobs are eager to avoid serving on juries, mainly because the convoluted rules of procedure and evidence have turned summary trials into week-long events. By and large, only the least offensive – and not coincidentally, the dumbest – tend to be selected for juries. As the aphorism goes, the problem with juries is that they are generally composed of the 12 people too stupid to get out of jury duty.
The phrase “show trial” now means something different – it means a trial that is a show. That’s precisely what O.J. and Casey Anthony were about. Every juror expects to see Sam Waterston get up and deliver opening remarks, and damned if the court system won’t do its best to provide that entertainment. The provision of the Constitution that requires a public trial is now used to ensure that trials become media circuses.
Should we embrace the European inquisitorial system, in which judges ask the questions and come up with the decisions? Should we hire professional jurors?
The answer doesn’t lie in abolishing the jury system utterly, but in revamping it completely.
The rationale behind juries is still important, particularly with regard to politically-oriented trials: We don’t want judges paid by government to have full authority to condemn those of different political persuasions. And the rationale behind a public trial is also still relevant – we don’t want Star Chambers or clandestine hearings. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
By the same token, however, our current jury system is broken beyond repair. If we are truly to restore justice to our system of justice, we must pursue the best and brightest for service, make it easier for them to serve, make the rules of evidence and procedure more efficient, and allow justice to run more smoothly. Most Americans would be willing to serve on a jury for a day. Few would be willing to do so for a week and even fewer for a month. We need more day-long trials and less month-long trials. We need more justice and less showmanship.
Caylee Anthony, sadly, wasn’t just the victim of her mother here. She was the victim of a system that did not mete out justice to her murderer. There will be many more cases like Caylee Anthony until we do something to solve this mess.
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