Hail the lone juror!

Ever since the jury in former Illinois Governor Rob Blagojevich’s recent trial failed to reach a unanimous verdict in all but one count, I’ve been pondering whether our jury trial system in the U.S. makes sense.  There are different ways of looking at this.

1. My first response as a former resident of Chicago was “I wonder how he managed to buy off the juror.” Seriously, this is Illinois we are talking about.

2. Doesn’t this juror—revealed to be a 67-year-old former state employee—know that all Illinois Governors end up in jail?  They must have a special wing in the prison where they all go by now.

3. When Blagojevich left office, he had about the same approval rate as he did in the trial: 1/12.  The mystery continues to be not why his rating was so low, but that 1 in 12 people still thought he was going a good job.  What planet are these people living on?  Maybe the same planet as those who think the President is a Muslim or think that a U.S. government conspiracy was responsible for the twin towers falling (aside from the physics, when has any group of people in government demonstrated that level of competence—not to mention that level of evil).  No matter how nutso the idea is, 1 in 12 people in America will believe it.  Doesn’t this mean we should re-think this unanimous verdict thing?

4. But I’m also impressed by how easy it seems to get 12 people to convict someone who is innocent.  The Innocence Project has worked for the release of hundreds of convicted criminals who were later exonerated, often by DNA evidence.  Apparently even a unanimous standard is not sufficient protection of the innocent in all cases.  Wouldn’t lowering the standard to 11 or 10 votes just send more innocent people to jail?

5.  I wonder if the general persuadability of juries speaks to the idea that we give lawyers too much say in the jury selection process.   Of course we want both sides to eliminate the kooks and crazybirds (the 1 in 12 mentioned above), but what they seem to be shooting for is not wise people, well-schooled in the lessons of life, with good judgment and willing to make hard decisions.  It seems like we end up with people, by and large, who have few opinions, with little engagement in civic affairs and not highly educated.   In short anyone who might think for herself.   Limiting the lawyers’ ability to challenge jurors, for cause or otherwise, would lead to better juries, I think.

6.  Even though I think we had a miscarriage of justice in the Blago case—in the sense that he has been corrupt to the core since his early days in politics, and these charges are only the tip of the iceberg—I still like the image in my mind of the lone juror, standing up to everyone else and saying, “I have reasonable doubt.”  I like it that this is an ordinary person, not a judge or a government bureaucrat.  Just a citizen.

But in spite of bad outcomes—in fact, maybe because of them—I say, hail to the lone juror!   That one lone citizen can grind the system to a halt really is something worth preserving.  Given the many ways in which the government has whittled away our Constitutional protections over the years, I wouldn’t want to give this up as well.

[My one experience with jury duty was actually in Chicago many years ago.  I went downtown to the courthouse and waited for a few hours for my name to be called.  It never was.   Prior to the selection process, the trial judge gave this impassioned speech on the sanctity of trial by one’s peers.  I was genuinely moved.  It was one of the best Constitutional speeches I have ever heard.  I was ready to serve.  The judge gave this speech as an explanation of why he wasn’t going to let jurors off easily; their duty was just too important.  He then proceeded to let juror after juror off the hook for every lame excuse in the book.  Thus began my dissolution with the Chicago justice system.]

5 thoughts on “Hail the lone juror!

  1. My time is somewhat limited, but I will repeat only a piece of advice that I heard: If you are ever indicted for heinous crime that is sure to be an emotional case, do not use a jury, try for a judge alone.

  2. I am a staunch believer in the concept of jury nullification. A lone juror is the last stand against an overzealous prosecutor and an over reaching state.

    I find public corruption cases a waste of time whose prosecutions are financed by the taxpayers. My view is, if the voters of Illinois don’t like Blago or his ilk they have every chance to replace him in the primary or on election day. The primary and election is already scheduled and budgeted for. The prosecution is an additional expense for the taxpayers.

    I don’t know that Blago caused any direct physical or financial harm to anybody. Barring any evidence of either I would have claimed a reasonable doubt and not voted to convict.

  3. I read a brief piece interviewing the juror. Her logic was along the lines of ‘one moment he was talking about selling the Obama seat, the next appointing Oprah as ambassador to India – he’s crazy’. He may well have intended to sell the seat, but the State’s evidence didn’t convince her beyond a reasonable doubt. It seems like a reasonable position.

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