Chapter 14: The Jury in a Historical and Cultural Context
In a current petit or trial, at the simplest level, the jury has to determine the facts by ensuring that in every case, the law is applied. On the other hand, the grand jury which comprise of larger number of citizens has the role of making decision regarding whether there was enough evidence provided by the prosecutor. They will use this information to determine formally, whether the accused has a criminal case to answer. They will also use the information to determine whether indictment is to be issued even if the prosecutor is not willing to bring charges. This chapter determines the function of the jury in a trial and the way in which they relate to culture in the twenty first century and medieval England as based on truth serums, technological inquiries, and DNA.
In medieval England, trial by ordeal was mainly faith based. The verdict was based on divine intervention because of the belief in divine will. The English Crown accepted the ordeal as a legitimate institution due to the powers bestowed in them by religious beliefs in the society. A priest was therefore required to officiate a trial by ordeal. In this case, it was the will of God based on the turn of events to determine whether the accused was guilty or not. In simple term, it was God’s judgment, but the King’s judge plus the priest had to be present for it to be considered legitimate.
In the twenty-first century, the medieval kind of trial would be highly criticized as a legal institution. This is because it is not connected to the truth and there is no scientific evidence to make a concrete decision that the accused is guilty. There is also possibility of biasness based on the priest’s knowledge of the individual and kingly payoffs might affect the outcome of the case. However, despite of this, trial by ordeal and trial by jury share similar center. This is because in each case, regardless of the method used, it settled the current dispute which is the important issue. The only difference between ordeal and jury is the underlying cultural values where the institutions are served. The jury had to rely on the local affairs to make a decision similar to the ordeal. It means that despite the transformation that has been experienced from resolving dispute in a religious way to using rational man and finally the rule of law, in the end, what matters is the dispute was resolved. The symbolic role is not what matters, but the practical utility.
Chapter 15: The Jury as a Political Institution
In a jury room, it is important that the verdict be made based on fairness of law application and significant facts available. When the jury has decided to rely on truth serums, DNA, polygraphs or other methods, they have to validate the validity of these evidences to make a normative judgment. The case of Duncan in the previous chapter has revealed that the role of the jury as an institution considered as political is to protect the accused against oppression from the government. The case of Blakely v. Washington (2004) is a good example that depicts the constitutional roles of juries and their importance in every criminal case. However, there are complexities within the US jury system which was expressed by Tocqueville. The jury is agent who extends his/her power in a formal law while at the same time ensures political sovereignty in a manner that is democratic. In a political function, people ends up questioning the jury’s power and attitude in the ways in which they will get involved in the process. Following Tocqueville’s case, the jury’s rights are unquestionable because their decision is based on conscience which is at the odds with law. Jury nullification has been an issue that has been under discussion especially the ways in which the trial judge will treat the issue.
Chapter 17: Decline of the Jury: Democracy at risk?
In the US, trial by jury is an institution that is not only threatened but also fading away. Currently, only a small percentage of criminal and civil cases are tried by the jury. There is a belief that the tort reform is attacking the banner of jury trial in civil issues. As a result of this, there are few people who are today willing to become part of the juries. It is because there is a tug of war that has been set over jury power which might be helpful in achieving democracy and liberty preservation. At the same time, it counts the continual and survival of redefined community. However, the society still questions the vitality of the jury trial because of the underlying threats. There is a small percentage of jury trials that currently takes place. For instance, out of the twenty-five civil cases, only one can end up before the jury. This is also the same issue as seen in criminal cases whereby in eighty-five percent of the cases, only sixteen percent end up before the jury.
However, it is important to understand the importance of jury trial. It is not only a political institution, but juries are important to defendants and the civil litigations in a criminal trial. They ensure that fairness is achieved and that the judgment is secure and legitimate. Any trial by jury also empowers the people and ensures that the ruling is incorruptible. In this way, the everyday societal beliefs and values of the communities are maintained which is a clear indication of democracy. A trial by jury not only involves the community as the main player, but also protects the parties involved while at the same time balancing the standards and values of the society. According to Tocqueville, the juror service enables every individual in the society to learn the aspects of judgment and become satisfied by the means of trial implemented.
The importance of the jury was identified by Stephanos Bibas who found that in the year 2000, the 93.8 percent of the criminal cases, the defendants were found guilty while others had no content pleas. About 4.4 percent of the cases ended up in conviction or others acquitted after they underwent jury trials. He came to a conclusion that there are no longer trials without the juries instead the world will continue to have guilty pleas which indicates democracy is at high risk. However, despite of these findings, there are still attempts to reduce the number of jury. The main reason that has been provided is that it is a requirement in the US Constitution that in a criminal case, the verdict remains unanimous. The other reason is the desire to save taxpayers’ money and also to save on time taken to make a ruling considering that jury trials is always longer and demands more in terms of finances.
Morton Horwitz found that the act of reducing the jury is a way in which the criminal justice system is manipulating the law and rules while others are finding a way to merge their power. The legal institutions are meant to protect the people rather than oppress them making the roles of jury important. Professor Abramson found that reduction of the jury trial reduces democratic functions while promoting power politics based on special-interest which has dominated the regulatory, executive and legislative action in US.