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!