Thursday, February 14, 2008

A simple advocacy of the jury system

Today I discovered – after reading the student magazine at Tel-Aviv University, 'Thesis' – that 98% of trial proceedings in Israel end in a conviction. This number is not, of course, in itself meaningful So let us compare this to similar numbers in the US, or – even better – the Russian Federaion. Approximately 20% of US trials, and 18% of Russian trials end in an acquittal – or, in other terms, about ten times as many, in relative, not absolute numbers, as in the Israeli justice system.

Something is clearly wrong here. Naturally, the fact Israel allows the prosecution to appeal the case increases the power of the government. Under Russian law, the judge in an appeals court is prohibited to render a decision that would worsen the situation of the defendant or convict. He can, at worst, render a previous judgement stand, but never make it worse for you. In America, if the jury finds you not guilty, it's over – but not so in Israel.

Worse, Israel's system doesn't have juries at all – it has judges, and that's it. Judges who are not appointed by elected officials or elected directly – in fact, none of the judges in Israel are elected directly – but instead, appointed by a committee where most of the members are judges or members of the attorneys' association. As result, they copy the governing prejudices of a single narrow caste, and apply them to their practice with varying degree of subtley.

That, of course, is the very monstrosity that a jury system is designed to prevent.

Contemplate, in comparison, the American jury in the way it is supposed to function. You have twelve people, selected at random. Then, unlike an Israeli court, where a vote of 2-1 judges is enough to convict a man on the facts of the case, the unanimous agreement of all 12 jurors is necessary to acquit.

Naturally speaking, should there be the suspicion that the jury convicted you due to their long-standing hatred of blacks, Jews, bald people, you will be allowed to appeal. But the converse is not true. The jury can vote to acquit you, and should they do so, it is almost impossible that their decision will be reversed.

Naturally, this leads to a certain amount of people being released who shouldn't be – somewhere on the Internet, a particularly trigger-happy reader is already typing the name 'O.J.Simpson', but of course, that's the whole damn point of juries.

Naturally, juries rarely to acquit people who are blatantly and obviously evil murderers – though it sometimes happens (see O.J. Simpson again). Had they been known to often make such mistakes, humanity would have long since abandoned the trial by jury.

When American judges are polled on their opinion on their cases in a variety of research, they usually state they would have made the same decision as the jurors – except as, as I said, in a variety of borderline situations where the scales could conceivably tip both ways.

It is exactly in such situations that the jury – with it's lack of elite-dictated prejudices, and, most importantly, with its tendency to acquit – is going to come in useful.

Sure, maybe a few more guilty people will be set free. It's still better than having innocent people imprisoned.

And rember: It's better to set two dozen guilty men free than to imprison one innocent.


Blogger Michael said...

I would submit that the actions of the OJ Simpson jury was less about freeing an obviously guilty man, but a reaction of revulsion and contempt against a corrupt and feckless government which made the stupid mistake of trying to frame a guilty man.

A minor addition, though a supremely important one - all 12 jurors must agree in order to convict. Only a single juror refusing to consent is enough to prevent a conviction and force the prosecutors to either stage another trial or give up the effort against the accused.

The jury is the people's veto, and is an essential check and balance against government in a free society.

8:45 PM  
Blogger Allanea said...

I agree with every word you said, Michael.

11:08 PM  
Blogger Wm said...

Are you aware of jury nullification? The jury in America can also decide whether the law in the case is a just law or not. If they decide the law is unjust they can decide to nullify it!

Judges usually do not make jurors aware of this awesome power which they have. Instead judges instruct the jury to just apply the existing law.

Have you read Ayn Rand's essays and novels?

12:01 PM  

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