A Jury is essentially a group of people chosen from the community and tasked with the responsibility of hearing a legal case from where they deliver a verdict accordingly (Greene, & Bornstein, 2002). Juries are normally used in both criminal and civil cases, where they usually they base their verdict on testimony and any other evidence that has been presented at the trial. Juries are institutions that normally accords the ordinary citizen a rare chance of participating and being part of the apparatus of justice (Greene, & Bornstein, 2002). Although majority of the current legal disputes are being decided by juries the number has reduced markedly due to various reasons. Currently there are at least 150,000 jury trials that are still being decided by juries in United States alone, not to mention another bigger chunk ranging into tens of thousands of trial cases that are occurring in the rest of the world. In fact as US is pondering on whether to scrap the jury system countries like Russia, Spain, Japan and host of African countries are introducing it in their jurisdictions. In this paper I will be exploring the pros and cons of a jury system. In this regard I will endeavor to come up with a case for or against this jury system. Based on my research on jury system I will also recommend on the best step to take as far as jury system is concerned.
Psychological perspective of juries from different
One thing about the jury system that has been a subject of intense debate in the corridor of justice for a long time concerns the ability of the jurors to assess damages in a fair and predictable manner (Greene, & Bornstein, 2002). Most of the public outcry concerning the jury system has tended to focus on the ostensibly excessive manner in which they have conducted their damage awards. A good example of this can be found in the case in which Marc Bluestone, of California received a cool $39,000 of jury award after his Labrador retriever valued at only $10 died a few days of returning from a pet clinic, this demonstrates how juries can lack objective and be excessively generous with litigants at the expense of seemingly rich corporate defendants (Greene, et al, 2006). In majority of the cases the decision of juror concerning the damages has been deemed capricious, biased, unreliable, excessively generously, out of control, and unfriendly to corporate defendants (Greene, et al, 2006). One defect that has been cited with the jury system is that jurors can get away with a decision that diverge from the expected by simply arguing that the difficult of making a sound legal decision should be blamed on the intellectual or moral failing which is a price that the delivery of justice has to pay (Greene, & Bornstein, 2002).
There are a number of psychological factors that have been indentified as influencing the decision of the jurors which include; the identity of the defendant, plaintiff or even the jurors themselves; litigants' conduct, and nature and severity of the injury (Greene, et al, 2006). Because of these reasons we have been forced to ponder whether to reform the jury system, to do away with jurors completely, or even cap the damage awards to a reasonable level. Edith, Greene, Kirk, and Michael (2006) in their book "Psychology and the Legal System" wonder whether "the jury ought to be venerated or Vilified, or revered or reviled" (Greene, et al, 2006). These are some of the issues that have been hanged in on top of the jury system threatening to wipe it out like the swords of domacles.
Prediction on how juries will decide legal disputes has been cited to have a major influence on the verdict that jurors return and on their decision to settle on plea bargaining mostly in criminal cases. In fact critics of this system have perfected the popular statement to the effect that "bias is inevitable with jurors" (Greene, et al, 2006), showing the contempt that they accord to the jury system. Sections of the legal fraternity have castigated the institution of government for placing such massive power so directly in the hand of incompetent people and allowing the ordinary person the opportunity to judge the actions of a fellow citizen. Esteemed Judge Jerome was even more unkind and outright in his rebuke to the jury system when he claimed that 'juries apply laws that they least understand to facts that they can't get straight" (Greene, et al, 2006). This according to him is the reason why they are prone to emotional and psychological influencing in course of their arbitration.
If you thing that the jury system has come under severe criticism only lately then you are wrong, this is because Mark Twain took a swipe at it in his "Roughing It" when he referred to the jury as the "the most ingenious and infallible agency for defeating justice that wisdom could contrite" (Greene, et al, 2006). An anonymous commentator once wonder how one could ever allow him or her fate to be decided by a bunch of twelve people who are only armed with legal passion and hatred instead of legal knowledge and experience (Greene, et al, 2006).
The history of the jury system dates back to more than eight hundred years. This system was first applied in England as a replacement of the ancient system of trial that applied the use of a physical ordeal. The Jury system has however undergone significant changes to become what it is today. This is a court system in which the interpretation of the criminal law is given by a jury who appears to be giving the expressions of the ordinary person in the society. After listening to both sides of the case and considering all the arguments, evidences, confessions, testimonies, etc given in the court; the punishment is left to the judge to decide. This is a person who is thoroughly trained in this and therefore ensures that there is consistency in the punishments given and that this fits the crime. This is one of the things that distinguish the jury system from the system that was used before it as this did not reflect consistency in the punishments given to a specific crime (Williams, 1997).
In a country like Australia, the jury is composed of 12 members but this is not a standard number. The number of people that constitute a jury varies from one country to another. For example in the US, the criminal cases are handled by juries that are composed of six people. Indeed this is one of the most effective systems of justice based on the following reasons.
The law is brought to perspective based on human grounds. The cases are handled with the law that has been awarded a human face and hence the cases to don't at all time appear black and white. The judge in this case is under an obligation to apply the law as it is in a stringent and methodological manner. The jury gives both the defendant and the complainant each to present their side of the story; they listen to witnesses from all the sides, conduct investigations and then pass the verdict after considering all these factors.
It is therefore right to argue that this system incorporates the general people in the administration of justice. This is a good thing as the judgment that is passed affects both the people who have been accused and the society too.
This jury is usually composed of six to twelve people and therefore it is more effective in searching for the truth as opposed to one or a few people as it used to be before its introduction. This helps to eliminate the temptation of following the human emotions and feelings in settling for a verdict in a case. The final judgment is usually based on the jury's decision and not the decision of a single person.
The cases in the jury system are usually handled by legally qualified judges and magistrates who have a long history of presiding over and dealing with cases both simple and complicated. This means that before the final verdict is announced to the accused and the people who may have attended the case, a lot of things are usually considered and the decision is usually based on evidence, reasoning, investigation results, application of different areas of knowledge as well as discussions with other members of the jury to ensure that fairness is maintained as a value in the whole process (Williams, 1997).
Individuals are protected from being exposed to an arbitrary exercise to determine whether they are guilty or not. Most of the features that have been incorporated in the jury system were nowhere to be found in the arbitrary judgment. The likelihood of achieving fairness and justice in the jury system is therefore very high and the Community values and standards are addressed. The general public is likely to concur with the decision that the jury settles on and in most cases the jury wins the faith of the public.
There is provision of a retrial in cases that the accused feel have been tainted. This is the reason why there is a court of appeal. This court gives those people who feel that they have been wrongly accused a second chance to prove their innocence. It gives such people a chance to be subjected to a whole new panel of judges or a different jury who would handle the case from scratch again and based on their various testimonies, evidences, investigation results and other things presented before them, make a judgment that may be similar or contrary to that of the initial jury (Williams, 1997).
The advantages of the jury systems have been discussed in an extensive manner but though there are a lot of arguments that have been developed in counter attacking the jury system, this is the system that is recognized internationally. Some people have the believe that based on the fact that the members of juries are usually picked from different areas and different groups of people, these people may lack the necessary intelligence and expertise to deal with some of the complex cases that are presented before them. Others believe that they may be swayed by their human nature and allow emotions to sway them in making the decisions regarding these cases. However, this is a discussion that may continue without actually getting to a final conclusion. This is because it is a matter of perspective and therefore could sway to any side of the discussion depending on the people taking the argument.
The advantages presented by a certain group of people may be applied to be disadvantages to the other side of argument. All that should be understood is that the jury system was put in place to protect the rights of the offended and to ensure that the guilty are given the punishment they deserve. All this is meant to ensure that crime is eliminated in the society or reduced to a bare minimum. Nevertheless, the system of justice should keep on being updated to ensure that fairness is maintained as this is one of the most important features that should never lack in any justice system. This is what people seek whenever they decide to settle for any kind of a justice system and therefore anything that can ensure that the efficiency of the justice system is enhanced should be upheld and incorporated into the system (Williams, 1997).