Casey Anthony was found “Not Guilty” of murder. O.J. Simpson was found “Not Guilty” of murder. Being a trial lawyer in the Dallas / Fort Worth area since 1994, it seriously concerns me when I see jury after jury deliver questionable verdicts. It’s about time that we as a nation reconsider our jury system before the United States becomes the laughing stock of other judicial systems around the world. In my opinion, the answer is simple: Professional jurors.
Twelve jurors and five alternate jurors were impaneled in the Casey Anthony case. The jurors were sequestered for six weeks, having no meaningful contact with the outside world. This was done to ensure that the jurors were not “prejudiced” by outside influences. What our judicial system fails to recognize, however, is that jury misconduct is more often the result of improper deliberations rather than the result of outside influences. To add insult to injury, jury deliberations are held in private and are confidential. If we were permitted to record and watch jury deliberations, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some form of jury misconduct in every single case.
Essentially, our jury system operates on the dangerous premise that random members of the general public do not possess the requisite knowledge or training to serve as jurors. This is why the presiding judge must provide the jury with the “Charge of the Court.” The “Charge” is nothing more than a fancy term for the very specific and lengthy written instructions which the judge first reads aloud in open court and then provides to the jury (to be read aloud again) in deliberations.
Professional jurors, on the other hand, would not need these lengthy and complicated instructions. Professional jurors would undergo an in-depth training and certification program designed to educate them as to the dynamics of their role as jurors. Professional jurors would be taught how to recognize and avoid improper deliberations by learning and appreciating how improper deliberations can effect the outcome of a case. Professional jurors would be trained to disregard issues that are irrelevant, improper, speculative and prejudicial. They would also be trained not to make public policy through their verdicts.
As an added benefit, so much of the court’s time and tax-payer money can be saved through a professional jury system. There would be no need to conduct lengthy jury selections nor waste time reading extensive written instructions to the jury. There would also be no need to maintain an elaborate system of summoning jurors nor would it be necessary to sequester a jury. Furthermore, professional jurors would be sworn officers of the court, certified, and required to complete continuing education. Finally, professional jurors would also be subject to severe sanctions, and even criminal penalties, for judicial misconduct.
Let’s face it. Our current jury system is illogical and flawed. Yet, the ironic truth is that our judicial system forces untrained laypeople to be the final voice in disputes that can effect the lives of those who rely on our courts to deliver proper justice.