Even if you have never been to court, the law still affects your life. In this article, we will explore some of the more interesting cases in United States history that while they may not be well known, are still worth learning about and understanding. The constitution has a lot of great things it protects us from- but unfortunately also limits what we can do with power.
The “informed jury” is a constitutional principle that has been around for centuries. The idea is that the jury should be able to make informed decisions, and not just rely on what they hear in court.
Four recent cases have divided and skepticized Americans about whether our criminal-justice system provides fair results. The trial of Elizabeth Holmes for allegedly lying to investors, the conviction of three men for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, the conviction of Jussie Smollett for falsely reporting a hate crime, and the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse have all played out in very different ways, with legitimately contentious outcomes in the first three cases. However, all of these cases had one thing in common: they were all determined by juries, which is unfortunately becoming more rare in our legal system.
Americans may differ about the accusations or judgments in these instances, as well as their implications for topics like gun control, racial justice, and the freedom to peacefully protest. Though the writers of this post have comparable principles and dedication to criminal justice, they disagree on the outcomes. However, we believe that having these issues contested in public and having citizen jurors make the ultimate judgment was best for all Americans. It’s what a constitutional democratic country should be like.
Do you know the single right that is stated in the Constitution’s unamended language as well as the Bill of Rights? In criminal cases, the right to a jury trial. That right gets more words in the Constitution than any other, and it’s not by coincidence. At our country’s establishment, everyone agreed that citizen involvement in the administration of criminal justice was critical to the system’s legitimacy and fairness. “I view trial by jury as the only anchor ever envisioned by man, by which a government may be kept to the ideas of its constitution,” Thomas Jefferson said.
Despite this, jury trials are uncommon nowadays. More than 95% of criminal convictions are obtained by guilty pleas, implying that, although being legally required, criminal jury trials are seldom held. “Criminal justice today is for the most part a system of pleas, not a system of trials,” the Supreme Court said in Lafler v. Cooper (2012). This jeopardizes Americans’ constitutional rights by exposing them to coercion to plead guilty, as well as other types of police and prosecutorial misconduct that often result in erroneous convictions.
Juries don’t always get it right, to be sure. Jurors are human beings who make mistakes. In the last month, a slew of innocent individuals have been exonerated after being wrongfully convicted by juries. Kevin Strickland, a black man unfairly imprisoned in Missouri for more than 40 years after being convicted by an all-white jury, and two Muslim men accused of murdering Malcolm X, might be used as cover for federal government crimes.
In addition, juries are only as good as the information and direction they are given. Prosecutors often hide evidence beneficial to the defense, influence witnesses, and make incorrect arguments to the jury in the few cases that get to trial. Unfortunately, some judges, many of whom formerly worked as prosecutors, are not as diligent as they should be.
To some degree, juries are also bound by the legislation they are handed. Those who are outraged by the Rittenhouse conviction should direct their anger against Wisconsin’s self-defense legislation rather than the jury that upheld it. On the other hand, two of Ahmaud Arbery’s assailants were found guilty of “felony murder,” a crime in which a person is found guilty of murder when a death occurs while committing another felony, even though the death was both unplanned and unforeseen. While we agree that those defendants should not have pursued Arbery in the first place and that his death was a tragic mistake, we also feel that felony murder is illegitimate and perhaps illegal.
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Despite the disadvantages of a jury trial, the alternative—the haphazard practice of plea bargaining—is even worse. Coercive plea bargaining, in example, artificially reduces the cost of getting a criminal conviction. Prosecutors may persuade defendants to plead guilty by filing more—and more serious—charges than are necessary, especially when accompanied with pretrial confinement. Many of these allegations would collapse catastrophically if put to the test in an adversarial court, and plea deals save prosecutors the difficult, constitutionally required task of constructing a case for guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This greatly expands the number of prosecutions the government may pursue and makes mass imprisonment much easier.
Plea bargains may also shield policemen who violate citizens’ rights from public attention by ensuring that they seldom testify. Then there’s the horrible truth that occasionally innocent individuals are coerced into confessing to crimes. While it’s hard to quantify how frequently this occurs, experts estimate that it accounts for between 1.6 and 8% of all felony convictions.
More jury trials will not address all of our criminal-justice system’s issues. However, they would expose more misbehavior, making courts and prosecutions more equitable. Potential reforms include limiting the use of pretrial detention and mandatory minimum sentences to gain plea leverage; capping the amount prosecutors can offer in plea bargains; establishing watchdogs both inside and outside the justice system to scrutinize the validity of a guilty plea before a conviction is entered; and providing sentencing information to jurors so they understand the full consequences of a conviction for the defendant.
More jury trials are needed because they prohibit the government from condemning persons accused of crimes unilaterally and allow regular citizens to decide who ought to be punished. Nothing says “America” more than that.
Mr. Neily is the Cato Institute’s senior vice president for legal research. Mr. Trivedi works with the American Civil Liberties Union as a senior staff attorney.
Progressive prosecutors make no apologies, according to a Journal editorial. AFP/Getty Images/Getty Images/Getty Images/AFP/Getty Images/AFP/Getty Images/AFP/
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The “list the four types of jurisdiction and explain what they mean” is a blog post that includes 4 different types of jurisdiction, as well as an explanation for each.
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