In the mock trial we put on in POS 470, I got to be a juror, and this brought to light a lot of potential issues that can happen within a jury. The Jeffrey Abramson book entitled “We, the Jury” goes in depth in regards to the problems with juries in general.
Some issues that come up with juries is in listening to expert witnesses. During the mock trial, there was testimony given by a medical doctor. Some technical terms and medical jargon was used that I was not familiar with was used, and the terms were not always explained to the full extent. In real trials I imagine it can be problem for jurors who don’t completely understand what the expert witness is talking about, and then they try to bring it up in the deliberation process.
Abramson writes, “The average jury rarely understands the expert testimony… Nor do most jurors know the law or comprehend the judge’s crash course of instructions on it.”
When we were deliberating at the conclusion of the trial, we had to look up what the law actually said pertaining to the case at hand. Depending on the laws of the state you’re in, juries may not be given a copy of the law, and they may not even be allowed to take notes during the trial. Though even when a jury is allowed to take notes, there are still disagreements about the facts of the case.
We went through a mock trial that lasted about an hour, and we still had disagreements about who remembered correctly what facts were actually presented, and what the witnesses had said. Imagine a trial lasting for days or weeks. There is bound to be some arguments about what someone heard during the trial and what someone just thought they heard. Everyone could interpret the facts in a different way.
We all came up with different backgrounds for our characters to show that no juror comes into the situation completely unbiased. We attempted to make a “’cross section of the population’ jury” as Abramson puts it. Everyone has their own agenda and life experiences that they can’t separate themselves from. In Abramson’s opinion, that is a good thing. On one hand, jurors “use their different starting perspectives to educate one another, to defeat prejudiced arguments, and to elevate deliberations to a level where power goes to the most persuasive.” But on the other hand, some jurors decide cases according to emotion, prejudice, and sympathy more than according to law and evidence.”
What happens when a jury has little knowledge of the law and has prejudices that they can’t get past?
Could the system be reformed in some way? Or should we abandon it altogether?