I am often surprised at how passionate people get about how wrong a jury verdict is when they know very little about the case. We often see great passion from the general public in verdicts like the infamous criminal trials like the O.J. Simpson trial. People will talk for hours about how wrong the jury verdict was, but ultimately tell you very little about the details of the case.
The O.J. Simpson murder trial, the Casey Anthony murder trial, and now the Amanda Knox murder trial appeal, are all examples of verdicts that many in the general public believe the jury got wrong. Often those same people will be able to tell you very little about the case when pressed for details. Here in Boise, Idaho there are also many jury verdicts that the public thinks the jury got wrong. More times than not it’s when a perceived wrong-doer “gets off” because of a not guilty verdict. Here is the most recent example in Boise where a criminal defendant was found guilty of two misdemeanors, rather than the felonies he was taken to trial for. Below is an example of an online comment that was posted after the verdict.
Yet another prime example of it’s not who you know, but who you blow! This guy should’ve been locked up and had the key thrown away. But no, the idiot jury only found him guilty of “gross negligence” and not manslaughter, which he should’ve been. This isn’t the last we’ve heard of this guy. He will repeat offend, it’s only a matter of time. And when it happens, our so called “Justice” system and the State of Idaho will be paying out bookoo bucks for it. Mark my words….
Do juries get it wrong? I think so. There have been many times that I thought the jury got it wrong. However, those times that I thought the jury “got it wrong” were times that I had seen the jury trial, or at least knew many intricate details about the trial. Furthermore, juries get it wrong in not only that they acquit guilty people, but also in that they convict the innocent.
So I do not defend the jury system as being an infallible mechanism of justice. However, what does rub me the wrong way is when someone criticizes a jury’s verdict when they know very little about the details of the case. You must remember, for felonies, a jury of 12 must make a unanimous decision, or else it will result in a “hung jury”. A hung jury is a split jury that cannot come to a verdict. When that is the case, the judge will order a new trial, and the whole process has to start over. So a jury verdict is a unanimous decision of a group of 12 people (6 for misdemeanors), picked from a random pool of citizens. These are 12 people who have sat through every piece of evidence that can be presented to them. They spend days, often weeks, being shown the actual evidence. Not speculation, not hearsay, but the actual live testimony of witnesses who actually witnessed the events and circumstances.
Lawyers do not get to pick the evidence that will attract the most viewers to the 6 o’clock news to show the jury. The attorneys do not get to pick the evidence that will sell the most newspapers. The attorneys show all the evidence that the rules of evidence will allow. The jury then has to make their decision based off of that evidence, not the evidence that the media chooses to show the general public. In fact, the jurors are ordered by the judge not to talk to anyone about the case while the case is pending, and also not to watch any media coverage of the jury trial. Those factors are not to come into play in the jury’s deliberation.
The public generally comes to their verdict of the criminal trial based on what the media has told them about the facts, via media sound bites. On the other hand, the jury does not get to take into consideration what the media has reported, but instead they must consider all the evidence that has been presented to them at the jury trial. A jury trial that takes days, weeks, sometimes months to finish. So unless you are willing to sit through days, weeks, or months of a criminal jury trial, and see what the jury sees, and hear what they here, then you are probably not in a position to criticize their final decision.