What's the proper function of a jury in the American criminal justice system?
If you listen to some people — me, for instance — it's to act as a bulwark between the overwhelming power of the state and the individual, to hold the government to its burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to a (nominally) neutral body.
That's not a particularly popular view. Expressed or not, the more popular view is that the role of a jury is to delivery a guilty verdict when the government accuses someone of a crime.
I give you two examples of this viewpoint from the past week:
In Ohio, Judge Amy Salerno berated a jury for returning a non guilty verdict in a case where she believed a guilty verdict was called for.
Salerno criticized the jurors in front of other people in the courtroom, according to the complaints. She also suggested that there would be another opportunity to convict the defendant because he was charged in another case in front of her, according to the jurors.
Salerno later sort of apologized, saying she was "surprised" by the verdict:
In an interview yesterday, Salerno said the verdict had surprised her; she echoed a printed statement she provided to The Dispatch that read: “(I) failed to contain my surprise at this particular meeting (with jurors).”
A jury's failure to convict is often a surprise to people who believe that a jury's role is to convict.
Meanwhile, at 'In These Times," Richard Baker explains why jurors are simultaneously stupid and pseudo-intellectual, and how this explains jurors frustrating justice by returning not guilty verdicts in cases like People v. Zimmerman:
The defense attorneys work their magic by convincing the jurors of their own sophistication. The jurors are lead to believe that there is much more to the case than most people realize and only a select few people with their intellectual complexity can see through it all.
Jurors, Baker feels, fail to see the simple truth that anyone should grasp: the state has accused someone, the state has claimed a set of facts, the defendant is guilty.
I don't have the stomach today to fisk this excrescence. Fortunately Gideon has done it for us.
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