March 16, 2005

Juries on Trial

I read an interesting article in the NY times today on the death penalty in Califorinia, Jews and black women. The gisst of the article is that Jews (and black women, but the focus was mainly on Jews) were excluded from death penalty cases because of the belief on the part of at least one judge (but indications that other judges concurred, and acted similarly) that Jews would never be able to send a human to his or her death. The judge, who died a few years ago, was himself Jewish. The main accusations of prejudice come from a former prosecutor, who actually prosecuted the case which is the basis of the argument, in a writ of habeaus corpus. The contention is the trial was thus not fair and the man should have his sentence overturned and I suppose proceede to another trial. Other death penalty cases are of course affected.

Whether there is truth in this contention; that Jews and black-women were deliberately excluded from death-penalty cases, is not the crux of the matter, at least to me. From my readings it appears that the truth is Jews were deliberately excluded, but as I said, that is neither here nor there.

IF they were, and arguing from that basis, what should hte result be? I'm interested in the second step. Shold the verdicts be overturned? For the most part I'm against the death penalty as I find how it is applied in the USA goes against Torah principles---so a huge part of me is shouting OVERTURN!!! OVERTURN!!! simply because even if the person is guilty, in the majority of the cases I'd rather see life behind bars (and life, unto death) then the death penalty.

However, should this mean a wholesale overturning of all verdicts presided over by this particular judge? I don't know. Would it make a difference in the end? What is being judged is NOT the evidence, but the abilty to afix the sentence the guidelines require if one is a Jew or a black-woman. The implication on the part of the defense must be the verdict would be different, because either the remainder of the people are either more likely to afix a judgement of death or that Jews and black-women are less likely to do so, in either case, it would seem the defense is arguing, at least subtly, that the bias is correct. Overturn, retry with Jews and black-women on the jury and in at least some of the cases the judgement will be for a lesser sentence.

So then comes the age old question; what is a jury of one's peers? How does someone decide that a particular group of 12 is really fit to judge a particular person in a particular case? If you exclude from the jury those that would not put a person to death, should one also exclude those who feel one SHOULD under certain cirucumstances, put a person to death? How is any jury really fair? Should the job of juror become a professional one, where one's skills, intelligence, ablity to remain awake are assessed, and where there is a modicum of understanding of law? Rather than a jury of peers should we have a professional jury, trained, licensed and paid a living wage? What would be on the tests? Science and law, I would think, but what else? And how often, if at all, would they need to update their licenses?

I don't know about you all but this stuff fascinates me.

Posted by Rachel Ann at March 16, 2005 10:26 AM

I have been a part of two different juries and while found it all fascinating, I also found it frustrating.

I am not convinced that people really set aside their own beliefs and view the facts without bias. I think that it is a challenge to do so, but possible.

But my experience was different. I watched and listened as people ignored the facts and spoke about what they or people they knew had done in similar circumstances.

There is a place for that, but it shouldn't be the basis of making a decision.

Posted by: Jack at March 16, 2005 05:37 PM
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