We propose the establishment of a professional jury system. Establishing an actual position of professional juror would go incredibly far in ameliorating the intrinsic problems of misapplication of evidence, legal precedent, and other aspects of jurisprudence that easily result in gross miscarriages of justice across the country.
One of the great hallmarks of the American experience in the justice system is the intention that all are equal under the law. While we know the reality of the application of that truism falls short too often, the basis is the ideal we as a society strive towards. Public debates rage about the usefulness of the 2nd Amendment, the definition of “Free Speech,” the application of states’ rights or warrants. While the 6th Amendment is rarely brought up in discussion, almost always the pressing issue revolves around “the right to a speedy and public trial.” Throughout the centuries of usage of the Bill of Rights to inform and apply American court proceedings, one of the most unassailable assumed rights we have all enshrined is the notion that every citizen is held to account by a jury of their peers. Interestingly, the text of the 6th Amendment never mandates jury composition. All that the Constitution demands of a jury is that it is impartial and geographically derived from “the State and district” of the crime. And still, we hold as inviolate that a jury of one’s peers is held as a civic duty integral to all citizens.
The application, or misapplication, of “justice” in the American court system not only is a well-known issue that is imminently researched and studied and reviewed professionally, but also campaigned on in diatribes by candidates and pundits. It is even regularly mocked by artists and comedians – those necessary aspects of our society that hold up a mirror of social truth to and for us. We discuss a host of issues that impact the system: lawyer’s ethics, law enforcement and evidence chains, structural biases inside of the laws themselves, and even the role of media all are easily identified and commonly recognized in the ability to affect the outcome of a trial. We do not dismiss these issues at all. However we do want to shine a light on the fact that in many situations juries can be and are swayed by the misapplication from any or all these factors.
Therefore, a jury composed of professionals that have been well trained in jurisprudence and specific application to trial verdict decisions would provide a compelling social good while having the added benefit of comporting perfectly with the text and intent of the 6th Amendment. A fully professional jury structure provides the following tangible benefits:
- Assists with the 6th Amendment promise of a speedy trial by having a reliable venire rather than the onerous and clumsy civic juror-selection process.
- Creates intellectual honesty within the jury by being trained in jurisprudence and a full understanding of jury instruction.
- Being comprised of a statistical cross-section of the demography can do more to ensure the availability that the jury to beyond reproach of discrimination.
The questions of implementation seem to fall along the type of professional system that would be the most efficacious. Clearly the professional juror would be paid a significantly decent wage – every Department of Justice has paid employment for all necessary court functions. Should the jurors be full-time, salaried employees or part-time hourly employees; should they be employed directly by the department of justice as government employees or should they be able to be contracted through a firm that trains and provides a jury pool on demand? Rather than forcing a sweeping mandate, we leave the fine details of employment structure to the individual states and municipalities.
What must be codified nationally, however, are those issues that address the purpose and type of professional juror. While that position does not demand legal training per se – along the lines of requiring a JD or bar admittance – all professional jurors would go through consistent and thorough training in jurisprudence. Indeed, the entire crux of the proposal of a professional jury rests on this matter, for without it we do not address the fundamental problem of jury instructions going awry.
Take one of the most common situations we as a society recognize and take a collective eye-roll or head-shake: a judge instructs the jury “to disregard” what was just said or presented as evidence. We all inherently understand that is not only difficult, it is almost situationally impossible for a regular jury to do correctly, not to mention well. It was scientifically proven through Dan Wegner’s cognitive psychological research from the ‘80s about the famous “don’t think of the white bear” project. But perhaps more salient to the social psyche in terms of understanding the potential damage this can have, we only have to go back to Ghostbusters. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man was a response to being told to NOT think about the method of their destruction. This is not to say that the average citizen jury’s difficulty in disregarding evidence will result in their city being destroyed by a 100 ft Marshmallow Man, but isn’t it worth the effort of jury reform to ensure that the American judicial system doesn’t have to “crossing the streams.”