27 October 2003

The Height of Arrogance:
The jury is the high point of amateurism, potentially a recipe for incompetence and bias. The mood of civilised systems of criminal justice increasingly demands professionalism. I am not contemptuous of the amateur’s ability to judge human conduct, only the task of evaluating evidence in the courtroom, which is a job for professionals. We should be able to trust those trained to be judges — and to start educating the public that the dismantling, or even ultimate disappearance, of its cherished institution will not be disastrous. It will bring clarity and purpose to the process of ensuring that justice is done.
This is exactly the person jury trials were put into place to keep in check - "the professional."

Juries guard against people as full of themselves as this gentleman who think the people should have little or no input in the day-to-day activities of justice. They guard against those professionals who are so ensconced in the system as to become mere cogs in the machine which tends toward conviction1. Juries guard against the relationship which develops between law enforcement and the professionals in the courtroom2.

Personally, I think it is a failure that more people are not tried by jury3. There is, of course, a huge judicial efficiency argument against this. However, I suspect that if there were not a strong distrust of the citizenry in the system this would be overcome.

1 I find it very hard to believe that people are more likely to be convicted by juries than judges. I've had more than one judge tell me he would have convicted my client after he was found innocent (and at least one before).

2 I've seen juries decide to believe my client over the story being told by the police officer. I've seen judges accept some amazing testimony from officers. Juries often have a better insight as to what really goes on between officers and the population. Note that we don't allow juries to decide some of those very interesting stories which are told by officers in order to justify a stop or search - they'd probably kick out many more cases than the judges do.

3 I am speaking here as a citizen not as a defense attorney. There are all sorts of procedural and substantive reasons which keep me from recommending trial by jury for most of my clients in Virginia.

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