Wednesday, April 20, 2005

What's so great about Juries?

The 7th Amendment right to a jury trial may be a constitutional "freedom," but I doubt much it extends either liberty or efficiency. Originally a Norman innovation, the jury was a collection of interested, knowledgeable neighbors gathered together to decide a case. Obviously, today that is precisely the sort of thing that would get one disqualified, however, at the time, it made jurors efficient decisionmakers. Considering the complexity of law today, however, I don't see how one can argue that jurors can (a) assurably and predictably act unemotionally when finding fact or (b) understand the technical vagaries of the law. Jury nullification exists, sure, but that swings both ways--e.g., klansmen acquitted in the South. Nor are judges agents of "the state" in the sense that they inevitably desire to expand state power. They are mostly legal scholars and practitioners with varying ideological views cabined by the authority of their office. I guess my problem is that while jury trials might be a civil or political right, I've yet to hear them defended on utilitarian or natural right grounds.

Caloo Calay,

dustin kenall

3 comments:

Paleocon said...

They can serve as a local nullification of federal and state power. Sounds good to me.

Charles Iragui said...

Dustin,

I doubt juries are a natural right but the Constitution is not a listing of natural rights that must be respected by the state. Rather, it is a compact on how we will govern ourselves. Natural Law could condemn provisions as contrary to natural rights but many forms of governmental organization are possible within these parameters, such as juries.

Juries are a protection AVAILABLE to parties in civil cases. If neither party wants the dilatory impact of the jury, and has no objection, the case will be tried by a judge.

As juries are fact-finders, I don't see the connection you draw between juries and the complexity of the law. Complex facts are a powerful argument against civil juries but I would respond to this argument with the claim that juries force lawyers to make the problem involved in a case understandable to the public (and law school students!), represented by the jury.

Another strong argument against juries is that the common man is too stupid, morally or intellectually, to cast judgment. To believe this is, I think, to doubt the value of democracy itself. I would claim that powerful elites are far more dangerous than the less educated people, who respond to instinctive and experiential justice: common sense.

best,

Charles

Charles Iragui said...

Dustin,

Oh, and what does Caloo Calay mean?

best,

Charles