Sunday, March 20, 2011

Things I Did Today
  • Worked from 12:00 p.m. to 11:15 p.m.
3 Recommended Links
Thoughts -- A Case For Professional Juries

Since I mention it in my previous post, I already wrote it up, and I think it's actually a good idea, here is my college debate case arguing that juries should be composed of trained, vetted civil servants instead of randomly drafted citizens (credit goes to Will Murray for the idea):

I. Liberty

A. Jury duty is unduly coercive.
  • Threatening citizens with punishment unless they perform certain work is generally unacceptable; it should be a last resort (e.g., military drafts vs. garbage collection). There is a fundamental difference between taxation and forced labor.
  • In certain situations (such as a massive invasion by a foreign power), there is no substitute for drafting additional soldiers, but there is no comparable need for drafting jurors on a regular basis.
B. Professionals are more productive.
  • People tend to perform better at tasks they choose to perform (e.g., elective classes vs. core requirements).
II. Efficiency

A. Jury selection is highly inefficient.
  • In the jury-selection process, large numbers of potential jurors are drafted on a per-trial basis. They are all initially questioned, and many are weeded out. The remainder are then questioned in more detail, and the prosecution and the defense may strike some of them from the panel. Finally, those selected as jurors are given a multitude of instructions.
  • This process is costly and time-consuming. Among other things: (i) many defendants have to languish in prison for a long time before their trials commence; (ii) jury instructions must be repeated at every trial; and (iii) many biased, incompetent, and unavailable people must be dismissed at every trial. These problems are better solved with a pool of professionals who are already trained, already vetted, and definitely available.
B. Jury duty is socially disruptive.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people are forced to serve on juries each year, and many more have to come to court for the jury selection process. The overall social costs are quite large. Among other things: (i) jurors are not working while they are serving; (ii) jurors must be paid while they serve; (iii) replacement workers often must be hired, who are often less productive (e.g., substitute teachers); and (iv) time-sensitive events such as business deals are delayed or disrupted.
C. Jury trials increase the need for plea-bargaining.
  • The cost and inefficiency of jury trials gives the state even more of an interest in denying defendants their days in court; the more costly trials are, the more pressure prosecutors put on defendants not to exercise their right to go to trial. Regardless of whether plea-bargaining is a legitimate practice, it is certainly not one we should be encouraging.
III. Justice

A. Lay juries are incompetent.
  • Lay jurors are inexperienced and untrained. They are ill-equipped to make good decisions with respect to a specialized proceeding such as a trial. Among other things, there is good reason to believe that jurors are: (i) bad at understanding judges' instructions; (ii) unduly influenced by rhetoric and emotional appeals; (iii) unable to meaningfully evaluate competing expert testimony; and (iv) unable to sensibly assess damages in civil cases, especially those with very large sums at stake. The upshot is that jury verdicts are particularly fickle and arbitrary.
  • We rely on trained, experienced decision makers to judge Olympic events and even college debate elimination rounds. Shouldn't we also do so when people's lives and liberty are at stake?
B. Professional juries are less likely to be biased.
  • The short-term process of jury selection can only identify fairly overt biases based on how prospective jurors appear and how they answer questions. Professional jurors, on the other hand, would have to undergo extensive background checks, evaluations, and training.

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