Juries vs. the Legal Establishment
In his opinion article "When the Public Becomes Judge and Jury" (Dec. 5), American Bar Association President Jerome J. Shestack misses the true threat to America's jury system.
Mr. Shestack blames "spin doctors, public opinion polls, sound bites, and general media hype" with inappropriately influencing jury decisions. However, the effect of public scrutiny and comment in a few high-profile cases counts for nothing compared with the control imposed on juries by the legal establishment.
The vast majority of trials never appear on page one and are ignored by the media. Yet it is in these trials that attorneys and judges - day in and day out - manipulate and subvert the jury system.
Our jury system is under attack in three ways: (1) The jury is rigged from the start during the jury selection process, an intensive and highly intrusive questioning process that destroys the cross-sectional nature of the jury and results in jury stacking. (2) The jury is prevented from hearing all of the testimony and from considering all of the evidence during questioning of witnesses. (3) The jury is erroneously instructed by judges that it must accept the law without question and consider only the facts of the case.
When Shestack says, "Our system has worked for 200 years, and indeed it works now," I wonder what he means. Many government systems throughout history have "worked." Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia "worked." Some people might say our jury system "works" because the United States now incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any other Western nation.
However, if fairness and justice are our goals, the system will work only when the jury is unshackled and independent from the control of the legal establishment. This requires: (1) that the questioning of jurors during jury selection be limited to only a few necessary questions to prevent jury stacking and to assure juries that represent a fair cross-section of the community, (2) that the jury hear all of the evidence, and (3) that jury instructions allow the jury to judge the law; every time the citizen is on trial, the law and the application of the law should be on trial also.
The purpose of the jury is to prevent oppression by the government. As the Supreme Court stated in Duncan v. Louisiana (1968), "A right to jury trial is granted to criminal defendants in order to prevent oppression by the Government...."
Patricia M. Michl
National Board Member
Fully Informed Jury Association
Separate GI Joe and Jane carefully
Let's hope that the Army promise of "Be All That You Can Be" applies to women who join the volunteer armed forces as well as male recruits (Editorial, "Separate GI Joe and Jane?", Dec. 22).
The special panel reviewing gender-integrated training has recommended greater segregation of the sexes in basic training in the Army, Navy, and Air Force, following the lead of the Marine Corps. The panel believes that this separating of the sexes will have a positive effect on combat readiness, troop morale, potential sexual harassment, and the overall military performance of men and women. Politicians, women's groups, and pundits are jumping to conclusions about this report.
It would probably make a lot of sense to slow down and thoroughly test the integrated system against a segregated program for basic, as well as advanced, training. That means several years of carefully planned tests that measure the numerous facets of integration of the sexes in combat branches. Like major companies, the Pentagon should test new training ideas to determine which work best.
George A. Dean
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