Professional Jurors?

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GloriaInTX's picture
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4116
Professional Jurors?

In light of the recent verdict in the Casey Anthony trial, what is your opinion on professional jurors? We pay judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys, why not have a pool of trained jurors that get a decent wage instead of getting someone off the street?

The time for the American criminal justice system to impanel professional juries is clearly past due. Because it has become self-evident that presenting lay jurors with reams of evidence and over one hundred pages of jury instructions then sending them off to make a life or death decision (some times under extreme social duress) is as foolhardy as giving a lay person a medical journal then putting her in the ER to perform brain surgery. Indeed, given this untenable premise, it’s really no wonder that there have been so many cases where juries have returned verdicts that can only be described as gross miscarriages of justice.

The world knows about OJ Simpson, Robert “Beretta” Blake and Michael Jackson. Now the name of Richard Scrushy can be added to this infamous list of acquitted murderers, pedophiles and fraudsters. But the only way to arrest this trend – especially as concerns celebrity defendants – is to select professional juries comprised of individuals who have the legal training to appreciate that “beyond a reasonable doubt” does not mean the absence of all doubt and who can make reasonable inferences and deductions from the evidence presented. Chances are that such individuals will be less inclined to see criminal trials as a potential financial windfall, if there happens to be great media interest in their case. And, given the exacting and decisive temperament that comes with legal education, the guarantee of a speedy trial might finally have some value in practice.

Conveniently, law schools and state bar association are repositories of an inexhaustible supply of such trained individuals – as even 2nd and 3rd-year law students easily qualify. And, these institutions can provide courts with lists of suitable jurors to sit on juries without too much difficulty. Of course, greedy lawyers will raise all kinds of self-serving objections (over compensation, opportunity costs, etc.) to such a prospect. After all, “only people too stupid to get out of jury duty serve on juries”. But, since the Supreme Court has now ruled (in Kelo v. City of New London) that there are no limits to the sacrifices private citizens can be required to make for the public good (including having to give up their homes), the loss of a few billable hours hardly seems onerous.

Having become a Bible thumping preacher as a part of his defense strategy, Richard Scrushy, second from left, with his wife Leslie, gave thanks to God for sending him a jury of “good Christians who knew that my faith in God would not let me do the things I was charged with doing”. Hallelujah!

But, back to Mr. Scrushy whose acquittal on Tuesday – despite overwhelming evidence of his guilt – prompted this proposal. The facts of his case are too convoluted to cite but the following scenario is illustrative:

Imagine being the owner of a small business and conspiring with your accountant to under report revenues to avoid proper taxation. Then, horror of horrors, you fall prey to an IRS audit and your accountant folds like a wet rag and squeals like a pig.

At your trial on charges of tax evasion, your accountant – as star witness for the prosecution – testifies not only about his participation in the scheme but about yours as well.

A reasonably prudent juror (i.e. one who is legally trained) would probably believe his testimony beyond a reasonable doubt. Moreover, if your only defense is that he’s a liar and a thief because you know nothing about the scheme, this juror would probably find you either too stupid or too arrogant to be credible and still convict on all charges, no matter how much your lawyer tries to impugn your accountant’s character.

Scrushy was tried under similar circumstances as owner of Healthsouth Corp., the rehabilitation and medical services chain he created and through which – it was alleged – he orchestrated a $2.7 billion accounting scheme. Prosecutors presented corroborating testimony from 15 former HealthSouth executives all of whom testified as to Scrushy’s principal participation. Most damaging, however, was the testimony of five former chief financial officers who (like the accountant in the illustration above) pleaded guilty to their involvement and swore that Scrushy not only endorsed but also directed their financial machinations to inflate his company’s profits.

Yet, after an unprecedented 20 days of deliberations (no doubt 19 of which were spent trying to decipher the voluminous legal jargon in the jury instructions), an Alabama jury acquitted Scrushy of all 36 charges against him. The jurors “reasoned” that his lawyer’s claims (as Scrushy did not testify in his own defense) that Scrushy knew nothing, heard nothing and saw nothing of this scam were entirely credible. And, that all of those who implicated him were disgruntled employees just out to save their own hides.

Nevertheless, the evidence presented against Scrushy was so overwhelming that it prompted David Skeel, renowned author of a seminal book on corporate scandals and University of Pennsylvania Law School professor, to lament that “this in everybody’s book was the strongest case for conviction….And the government ended up with nothing.”

So Scrushy walked - thanking the Lord for escaping a sentence of life in prison and holding onto his documented $280 million worth of ill-gotten assets. Meanwhile, the executives who struck plea deals with prosecutors will not only face serious time behind bars but also forfeit much of their personal assets; ironically, because they reasonably assumed that since the evidence against them (all) amounted to being caught with their hands in the cookie jar, no jury would acquit them on any of the charges. Fools!

Of course, no legally trained juror – upon hearing the evidence presented against Scrushy – would have acquitted him and maintain her professional integrity, credibility and viability. And, therein lies the beauty of this proposal for professional juries: real consequences for jurors rendering patently stupid and irresponsible verdicts!

http://www.theipinionsjournal.com/index.php/2005/07/the-case-for-professional-juries-proved-beyond-a-reasonable-doubt/

ClairesMommy's picture
Joined: 08/15/06
Posts: 2299

While I think it's a great idea, it kind of flies in the face of an accused facing a jury of his/her peers.

...It refers to the right of the criminal defendant to have the jury comprised of broad category of people from any race and from different regions and origins to any gender. It means the court always seeks jury of mixed nature whereby there is no scope for bias decision and can have different heads to think in the jury.

Could you get that with a professional jury? Yes, maybe less bias because they're 'professional', but IDK about the rest.

eta - Also, there is something to be said for doing one's civic duty and all that about democratic process and having your 'say'. Sure, jury duty pay sucks and the trials can be emotional, and while I do think for impartiality alone a professional jury would work in the favour of both the victim and the accused, I don't think I like the idea of that part of the judicial process being taken away from the citizens, KWIM?

Joined: 05/31/06
Posts: 4780

I admit to being curious when you say "in light of the recent Casey Anthony decision"...........could you elaborate?

Joined: 04/12/03
Posts: 1686

But, since the Supreme Court has now ruled (in Kelo v. City of New London) that there are no limits to the sacrifices private citizens can be required to make for the public good (including having to give up their homes), the loss of a few billable hours hardly seems onerous.

What does this have to do with jury duty? The ruling doesn't require an individual to sacrifice his/her home to serve on a jury.

Our system is far from perfect but professional jurors aren't the answer. Even 2nd- or 3rd-year law students are going to know what kind of practice they want to go into. If you are pursuing a career as a prosecuting attorney, you're going to take that bias in with you. Likewise, someone who wants to work as a defense attorney or public defender is going to carry that into the court room.

I wouldn't want my fate decided by 12 men and women who are pursuing a legal career. It would seem they would be judging how well they attorneys are doing their job rather than the actual evidence. They would also weigh past cases in deciding current cases.

Also, as a law student, wouldn't you be more up-to-date on current events? So as not to taint the jury, they try to get citizens have little or no knowledge of the case. It would be hard to live under a rock to the extent of not hearing/reading something about all the potential cases you might hear in the courtroom.

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4103

"ethanwinfield" wrote:

What does this have to do with jury duty? The ruling doesn't require an individual to sacrifice his/her home to serve on a jury.

I think where the author is going with that reference is because serving jury duty can be a financial hardship for a lot of people, and the Kelo decision set a bad precedent where a very ill-conceived notion of "the public good" can be imposed on citizens. I'm guessing the author envisions people suffering enough financial hardship from jury duty that they lose their homes, but they can't get out of jury duty because of the argument that it's for the greater good of society. Not sure I go along with that POV, but I think that's what he meant by it...

I think there are good arguments to be made for having professional jurors, but EthanWinfield made some valid points about why law students wouldn't fit the bill. I think it would be a regular civil service job where applicants have to pass a test showing that they have a good working knowledge of some key concepts, enough intelligence to understand some complexities, and demonstrate an ability to apply a set of given standards to a variety of circumstances. There wouldn't be any particular degree necessary, if you can pass the test, you can serve. It would be a full-time job with a market-rate salary. After two years of service on routine theft & DUI cases, you would have the opportunity to test up to serve on more complicated cases like murder, tax evasion, etc. with an appropriate step up in salary.

My Nana used to get called for jury duty so often that she joked that she was a professional juror. She loved serving jury duty -- until they took away the jurors' parking lot. When she started having to pay to park, which ended up costing more than her juror pay, she stopped wanting to do it so much. If we don't change the system to incorporate professional jurors, then I truly believe that we need to change the system so that people aren't penalized with loss of income when they fulfill their civic duty of serving on a jury.

elleon17's picture
Joined: 01/26/09
Posts: 1981

I think it takes away 'a jury of my peers'.

They are not supposed to be professionals and that is the purpose. The evidence should be apparent to an everyday man/woman, not a trained professional.

ftmom's picture
Joined: 09/04/06
Posts: 1538

This: real consequences for jurors rendering patently stupid and irresponsible verdicts! (last line of the article) strikes me as wrong. I thought the point is that there is really no effect on the jurors 'real' life due to the verdict. If we are talking about lawyers or law students and they are more worried about how a verdict will effect their lives and careers, then I dont see that being a fair trial.

GloriaInTX's picture
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4116

"elleon17" wrote:

I think it takes away 'a jury of my peers'.

They are not supposed to be professionals and that is the purpose. The evidence should be apparent to an everyday man/woman, not a trained professional.

The phrase "a jury of one's peers" is a part of the American lexicon, yet surprisingly it nowhere appears in the Constitution. The Sixth Amendment simply guarantees the right to "a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed." Some of the most significant decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court controlling jury composition, moreover, have been based not on the Sixth Amendment but on the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of "equal protection of the laws. "

http://www.crfc.org/americanjury/jury_peers.html

Joined: 04/12/03
Posts: 1686

"GloriaInTX" wrote:

http://www.crfc.org/americanjury/jury_peers.html

Fair enough. However my argument in part is that professional jurors (especially law students) wouldn't impartial.

Joined: 08/05/06
Posts: 441

"GloriaInTX" wrote:

http://www.crfc.org/americanjury/jury_peers.html

I really should be studying, but here's my quick pop in. The 6th amendment speaks to this. Something does not have to be literally in the text of the Constitution verbatim to be law. "Jury of one's peers" comes from the Magna Carta and our criminal justice system is based off of the English Common Law (Louisiana is the state that sticks out as not to be that way). An impartial jury has been interpreted as coming from a representative cross-section of the community (one's peers) and based on common law (which the Magna Carta speaks to). Just because something isn't spelled out in the Constitution doesn't mean it's not a federal requirement.

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4103

Professional jurors could be impartial. We expect, and rightly so, that our judges be impartial. We expect the state employees who review various permits & applications to be impartial. There are sanctions when they are not impartial. That's why I believe a professional juror would need to be a job in & of itself, and not the kind of service hours toward graduation or pro bono work as described in the article.

GloriaInTX's picture
Joined: 07/29/08
Posts: 4116

"Spacers" wrote:

Professional jurors could be impartial. We expect, and rightly so, that our judges be impartial. We expect the state employees who review various permits & applications to be impartial. There are sanctions when they are not impartial. That's why I believe a professional juror would need to be a job in & of itself, and not the kind of service hours toward graduation or pro bono work as described in the article.

I agree with this. Jurors wouldn't necessarily have to be law students, that was just one idea put forth by the person who wrote that article. I think you would be much more likely to get an impartial jury if the jurors were required to take some kind of course on diversity as part of their training. If it were me I would much rather my fate be decided by someone who at least had the intelligence to understand the judge's instructions and wanted to be there, as opposed to someone who wanted a quick verdict so they can get back to their normal life. If it is their job they are much more likely to take the time and go through the evidence and not rush to make a judgement and go home.

boilermaker's picture
Joined: 08/21/02
Posts: 1984

I think we are naive if we think that jurors really are selected randomly. Maybe the original pool, but not the final 12 who end up hearing the trial.

I have a friend who works for a big law firm in Chicago. He literally profiles various people and potential jurors for big corporate cases. They do entire mock trials with mock jurors to see how people respond to the trial, and then use that info to select the "profile" on a juror who will side with their client. I'm talking big multi-million dollar cases.....they literally will whittle down their "ideal" juror down to various demographics-- age, socio-economic class, education, ethnicity, etc....scary IMO.

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4103

"CalBearInBoston" wrote:

I really should be studying, but here's my quick pop in. The 6th amendment speaks to this. Something does not have to be literally in the text of the Constitution verbatim to be law. "Jury of one's peers" comes from the Magna Carta and our criminal justice system is based off of the English Common Law (Louisiana is the state that sticks out as not to be that way). An impartial jury has been interpreted as coming from a representative cross-section of the community (one's peers) and based on common law (which the Magna Carta speaks to). Just because something isn't spelled out in the Constitution doesn't mean it's not a federal requirement.

I'm not a lawyer, I only play one on the internet. Wink So take this with fair warning...
The Magna Carta was all about limiting the powers of the king. The king could no longer arbitrarily decide that someone was guilty of something, or change the laws whenever he wanted. It served to codify a set of laws of the land that would be applicable to everyone, and punishment could only be served "by lawful judgment of his peers," meaning not by the king or his representative. A group had to agree that you'd done wrong, it was no longer one person making that call. The definition of "peers" has varied over time, even in our country, women & blacks couldn't serve on juries for a long time before that practice was ruled unconstitutional. Trials are moved to other counties, thus changing the jury pool population from one's peers to someone else's peers, and that practice has been ruled constitutional. The underlying principle from the Magna Carta is not that the people hearing your trial match you economically or socially or religiously, but that they are an impartial group and not one person, i.e. a king, who might have something to gain or be holding a grudge or who wants to marry your wife after he has you put to death for your alleged crimes. So I see nothing in the Magna Carta that would prohibit professional jurors, as long as they are a reasonable representation of our society and maintain impartiality.

Joined: 08/05/06
Posts: 441

It sounds like you're arguing that we should pay jurors for their time while maintaining a diversity that matches the community. That is the system we have now, no?

I'm not saying that the Magna Carta prevents professional jurors. I don't think it's that black and white. What I was trying to say is that our constitution was in part codifying common law, which the Magna Carta is part of. Therefore, it's not a legitimate argument to make in my opinion that just because the text "jury of our peers" isn't in the constitution that it's not a constitutional requirement.

Joined: 08/05/06
Posts: 441

"boilermaker" wrote:

I think we are naive if we think that jurors really are selected randomly. Maybe the original pool, but not the final 12 who end up hearing the trial.

I have a friend who works for a big law firm in Chicago. He literally profiles various people and potential jurors for big corporate cases. They do entire mock trials with mock jurors to see how people respond to the trial, and then use that info to select the "profile" on a juror who will side with their client. I'm talking big multi-million dollar cases.....they literally will whittle down their "ideal" juror down to various demographics-- age, socio-economic class, education, ethnicity, etc....scary IMO.

Of course. But the expectation is that the other side has equal opportunity to take down jurors they expect will be biased, right? Assuming everyone has reasonable representation, I'm not sure it's that big of a problem. It should be equal biasing and come out in the wash.

Spacers's picture
Joined: 12/29/03
Posts: 4103

"CalBearInBoston" wrote:

It sounds like you're arguing that we should pay jurors for their time while maintaining a diversity that matches the community. That is the system we have now, no?

That's not the system we have now, not at all. The system we have now, jurors are expected to put their jobs on hold, sometimes even their lives & families on hold if they are sequestered, while serving. And they are paid $15/day for it, and not even paid at all for the first day. Some employers do pay for jury duty but it's usually limited to a few days a year, which will run out if you're on a major case, and it's not always convenient to take the time off. I've known co-workers who took work with them to do at night because we were at a point where their work couldn't just be set aside. So they were basically doing two jobs but only getting paid for one. That's not right.

ftmom's picture
Joined: 09/04/06
Posts: 1538

"Spacers" wrote:

That's not the system we have now, not at all. The system we have now, jurors are expected to put their jobs on hold, sometimes even their lives & families on hold if they are sequestered, while serving. And they are paid $15/day for it, and not even paid at all for the first day. Some employers do pay for jury duty but it's usually limited to a few days a year, which will run out if you're on a major case, and it's not always convenient to take the time off. I've known co-workers who took work with them to do at night because we were at a point where their work couldn't just be set aside. So they were basically doing two jobs but only getting paid for one. That's not right.

I know its my civic duty and all, but I am so glad I will never have to do this!

Joined: 04/12/03
Posts: 1686

Maybe it's because i live in LA County, but I've never heard of people being forced to serve if it was a financial hardship. The always asked how long employers paid, daycare issues, etc. I've been called twice. The first time i didn't even have to show up. The second time i was dismissed after 3 days.

Joined: 08/05/06
Posts: 441

"Spacers" wrote:

That's not the system we have now, not at all. The system we have now, jurors are expected to put their jobs on hold, sometimes even their lives & families on hold if they are sequestered, while serving. And they are paid $15/day for it, and not even paid at all for the first day. Some employers do pay for jury duty but it's usually limited to a few days a year, which will run out if you're on a major case, and it's not always convenient to take the time off. I've known co-workers who took work with them to do at night because we were at a point where their work couldn't just be set aside. So they were basically doing two jobs but only getting paid for one. That's not right.

You can't maintain diversity and pay jurors as their full time job, though. How would you do that? How would you accurately get a cross section of the community? Why couldn't you just pay existing jurors more if your argument is that people are paid too little?

I think it's sad when people complain about jury duty, even though I understand it can be a pain. If you were a defendant in a jury trial, wouldn't you want an actual cross-section of your community there to decide your fate? I wouldn't want my jury to be filled with people who just had nothing better to do. Life isn't always convenient but justice is important.

ClairesMommy's picture
Joined: 08/15/06
Posts: 2299

"CalBearInBoston" wrote:

You can't maintain diversity and pay jurors as their full time job, though. How would you do that? How would you accurately get a cross section of the community? Why couldn't you just pay existing jurors more if your argument is that people are paid too little?

I think it's sad when people complain about jury duty, even though I understand it can be a pain. If you were a defendant in a jury trial, wouldn't you want an actual cross-section of your community there to decide your fate? I wouldn't want my jury to be filled with people who just had nothing better to do. Life isn't always convenient but justice is important.

Yeah, or who are actually pi$$ed about being there! You'd hope those folks would get weeded out through the jury selection process, but it would make me (as a defendant) worry that the 12 people who held my life in their hands wouldn't be fair and impartial, not sitting there in the courtroom ignoring important evidence and testimony, and then rushing to reach a verdict. If there were professional jurists, who would actually sign their pay cheques? The lawyers? Some sort of pooled fund of taypayer $$ ?

AlyssaEimers's picture
Joined: 08/22/06
Posts: 6568

I think if it was your job to be a professional juror, then you would have an employer that could easily sway your decision. I believe that is why Supreme Court justices are not voted on. They do not have to worry about losing their job if they do not vote the popular vote.

Alissa_Sal's picture
Joined: 06/29/06
Posts: 6427

"ftmom" wrote:

This: real consequences for jurors rendering patently stupid and irresponsible verdicts! (last line of the article) strikes me as wrong. I thought the point is that there is really no effect on the jurors 'real' life due to the verdict. If we are talking about lawyers or law students and they are more worried about how a verdict will effect their lives and careers, then I dont see that being a fair trial.

This is what I was thinking too - I wouldn't want a jury to decide my fate based on what it means to them ("if we hand down a controversial or unpopular verdict, our careers will suffer, so we had better stick to the verdict that we think will be the most readily accepted and popular.") - I want them to decide based on what they really think based on the evidence presented to them. Anything else seems totally unfair.

I also don't like the idea of taking the judicial system out of the hands of the citizens. I think I understand what they were trying to get away from when they decided that the most fair trial is by a jury of your peers. I can easily picture a system where classism runs amuck - all jurors are educated and middle class and favor educated middle class defendents and educated middle class sensibilities.

Starryblue702's picture
Joined: 04/06/11
Posts: 5454

I think it's a terrible idea. It omits the purpose of getting to have a trial of your "peers." Jurors are selected from a pool and then scrutenized not only by the prosecution but by the defense to see if they would be good candidates to give a fair and honest opinion during and after the trial, and you would never get that with someone that did it for a living... IMHO.