Monday, November 5, 2007


Participating in this blog geared toward the social sciences has taught me to step back and look at all aspects of issues and try to see from others’ perspectives. In dealing with my issue, socio-economic status and the death penalty, some say that there is no bias because the state provides lawyers. However, it is widely known that these attorneys do not always do an acceptable job. When I began this project, I believed that all trials were fair because attorneys were provided for those who could not afford private lawyers. However, upon further research, I learned of the injustice being done to the poor. One example can be found with the West Memphis Three. Dr. Ofshe represented Jason Misskelley without any experience in criminal cases. I also believe that through this project I have come to understand the problems that exist within our justice system—there are still unacceptable biases that survive and that need to be done away with. “The US’s capital punishment process discriminates on the basis of socioeconomic status, race, and geography.” I have truly started to rethink my opinion of capital punishment and our entire justice system, and am starting to believe that ending the death penalty might be the only way to fix these inequalities.

Arguing With Stop Signs: Self-Analysis.

In the blog discussion, I have cited that personalites have affected the outcome of trials and that I believe it is in the country's best interest that this practice should be changed. In using the Ed Rosenthal, Richard Paey, West Memphis 3, and O.J. Simpson trials, I have ananlyzed and discussed this misfortune in our current society. In doing so; however, I have come to a standstill. The bias in society are far from being removed. I think that I am an example of how these bias exist because doesn't my opinion drive my argument to a degree? In seeing this I have realized that bias and personality cannot be withdrawn from society because the morals of society are created based on personality. I really don't think that there lies another side to the argument unless someone stands to tell me that the jury system, which became a large matter of evaluation in my research, is brilliant and shouldn't be tampered with. I doubt anyone thinks it is brilliant, but many probably believe that it is the only choice the courts have in keeping with the american ideal of democracy. I would agree with that.
I still think that personality plays a part in the verdicts and dismissals of some cases; however, I've finally seen the other side. In doing so, I have come to the conclusion that our jury problem doesn't relfect our constituition's preamble in complete good standing and that it is something that we can aspire to fix. Some think that we can. But to be honest, I now don't think that is feasible. I am able to understand, due to my research, why the jury is efficient. I have also come to the conclusion that the "personality influenced" jury might even be a very "American" instrument. This got me thinking because I realized that to a certain farfetched degree the prejudice embedded in American society results in the nonexistence of true impartiiality. While the presence of bias results in a departure from accuracy, it is our counrty's history and today's media presence that are fueling these bias. Therefore, the system may not be to blame, but instead the history is. Since time machines don't exist, one must conclude that it is inevitable, in a society based on diversity and vast cultures such as America, to have impartial accuracy. For the first time, I'd have to say that I basically concur. I disagree with the misfortune of the jury bias in many cases, but I accept that it is here and that it can't be changed tomorrow, if at all. With diversity comes prejudice. So, I guess you could say that having a jury fully drowned in prejudice is the American way because they reflect America's society. Therefore, I feel that I've been arguing with a stop sign because I was pushing for a change in a flawed system that cannot be changed because the fundation of the system is one of flaws. If America is a country derived from social prejudice and bias, then the prejudices are acceptable and potentially welcomed. I've been arguing that becoming truly impartial in cases, the court system will be a reflection of the American constitution. However, I see now that a true reflection of America lies in the behavior of the people, not a piece of paper. Therefore, I feel that I've argued with a stop sign because as much as I warrant change, I recognize that prejudice is an element of this diverse country. One might even say that social bias/prejudice are true American ideals.

Self Analysis of Media influence on trial

Throughout this project I found myself constantly developing as a student and a thinker. Every post brought new knowledge and a different style of thinking. In a way my argument changed its course drastically throughout this experience. When I first started this project I felt that the media was just an external source who feeds the general public a very biased perspective of a case. After researching my topic and reading comments posted by my peers I realized that I have underestimated the power of the media. I found the different avenues in which the media affected the trial prior to and post trial. It seems as if the media’s coverage of the case starts from the minute after the crime is reported, in some cases even before the crime occurs. I was intrigued that such a source could obtain so much information without any connection to the case. It seems as if the media is the middle man between the prosecution and the defense. Media is able to conduct interviews and converse with each party and “act” as a neutral figure. Yet, when it comes to reporting the story all this power is being abused. The media picks a side and pressurizes everyone else to it as well. This is one aspect of media’s role in court cases that upset me the most. The media is capable of so much, yet its power is put to waste. I feel that the media should have a social responsibility to provide its citizens with reliable and credible information at no one’s expense.
Upon more thought of the issue, I also began to delve into a few complications when I explored possible solutions to this problem in my implications and theory post. Every solution that I thought of began to explore seemed to only fit only in a perfect world. At first it seemed like there was no solution, but then I realized that through rigid regulation and elimination of pre-trial media a media tampering can be solved.
Also one of the most important changes in my thinking that I noticed is that I am now able to accept both sides of the argument and be less biased toward a certain side. When I first began working on this project I felt that the media was solely a bad influence to the public. Upon working with this project I have begun to realize that the media can also bring awareness to the public, which often sparks a fight for a good cause. For example, the media’s coverage of the Jena 6, OJ Simpson, West Memphis 3, and Dobbie Williams’ case all sparked activism across the country. As a result of this project I have also begun to understand the ramifications behind a good argument. I have discovered that some of the best arguments are ones that are balanced and use a variety of sources to make a point.
After much research and thought about media’s influence on the death penalty I find my knowledge about the issue to be scholarly, but by no means do I have authority over the issue. My opinions can be proven through credible sources and can help create a solution for the problem. I hope that my work will help inspire change and develop a social responsibility amongst all.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Self-Analysis after Researching Juvenile Justice

Throughout the blog project, my analysis of juvenile education has both changed and remained the same. I have strongly believed throughout the project that juveniles deserve a second chance and a right to be rehabilitated. However, this is not to say I have not been somewhat swayed occasionally by persuasive arguments. For instance, when a child purposely kills someone with a preplanned of course of action, it is hard to say he or she deserves another chance. But, as with all the postings in other blogs, I think an important learned factor in our justice system is that all situations need a line drawn so that individual cases are all uniform and fair. Because a juvenile court system is so different than an adult trial process, the children below a certain age should all benefit from this easier procedure at least once, no matter what the crime. The line must be drawn at a certain age for all states.

My reasoning behind this belief has, however, changed significantly. Before, I simply thought it a waste to throw away such a young life. Now, after extensive research, I realize not only is it a waste, but it is a scientifically proven mistake. Brains at this time in a person’s development are not through growing and maturing. Because of this scientific fact, can we as American citizens really hold the juvenile totally responsible for his or her actions? The reason his or her moral values are confused is probably not the fault of the child, but more the lack of guidance by the parents. Parents that allow such a young person to go down such a horrible path should be the ones to blame. A child must have guidance. The child is not to blame at his or her lack of guidance, but the government should know when to step in with parens patriae. Therefore, throughout my project my beliefs have remained the same, but the information about the developing brain that I gathered has really provided my beliefs with the support it needed.

I think throughout the blog project, the casual form of argumentation has encouraged my individual thinking and growth in beliefs. After reading people's comments, it has forced me to analyze and rethink my original beliefs. While I completely understand how people could believe that the same crime committed by a youth should receive the same punishment as if the youth was an adult, I also think this must be carefully considered. If a 1o-year old child makes a rash judgment and kills someone, should his or her life be over? No- the goal should be to help.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Liberty and Unjustice for All

Economic classifications cannot continue to play a role in capital court cases. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg claims, “I have yet to see a death case among the dozens coming to the Supreme Court on eve-of-execution stay applications in which the defendant was well represented at trial. People who are well represented at trial to not get the death penalty.” This is completely unjust and goes against everything that our country is based on. We are supposed to represent liberty, equality, and justice, yet this economic bias embodies none of these qualities. We lose credibility as a country because the implication of this bias is that the wealth of a person determines who is more important. Those, like Robert Nave, death penalty abolitionist advocate, who want to abolish the death penalty site socio-economic status and biased based on this as a main reason. It is a fact that a person is more likely to dodge the death penalty if they hire a private attorney. How is this fair? It is not fair at all and we should be doing something about it. It is not enough to simply realize it is a problem.
Poverty and the death penalty are tied together, and this tends to be the determining factor when deciding who receives the death penalty. What most often determines the imposition of the death sentence are not the facts of the case, but the quality of the legal representation. One of the most horrible examples rests with Calvin Burdine’s court-appointed lawyer. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1984, however the Supreme Court overturned this decision because his lawyer slept through major portions of his trial. The ACLU also argued that his trial was tainted with homophobia from the jury, his lawyer, and the prosecutor. How can we, in America, allow something like this to happen? Then compare this to the O.J. Simpson trial. Of course he could hire any lawyer he wanted with his bank account. I personally believe that he is guilty, however, his lawyer was paid outrageous amounts of money, and he got off easy.
There are also stories of inexperienced lawyers. Dennis Fritz, for example, came within five days of being executed, but was released because of DNA evidence. Why was he convicted for a crime that he didn’t commit? A court-appointed civil liabilities lawyer, not a criminal lawyer, represented Fritz. Also, a study found that “a defendant in Virginia will on average be sentenced two years longer if he is represented by a court-appointed lawyer rather than a public defender or a hired lawyer.” There have been attempts at reform: the Furman v. Georgia decision placed a moratorium on executions in 1972. The justices sited the quality of court-appointed lawyers as part of the problem. Also, in 2002 the Florida Supreme Court “extended the minimum standard for court-appointed handling capital cases to all attorneys.” However, there have also been setbacks in the process. New York recently cut the pay of court-appointed lawyers. This could really hurt the inequalities in capital punishment, making them worse. This article also claims that court-appointed lawyers are paid $125 an hour in New York, but only $20 an hour in Alabama. This difference in pay also helps account for the problems with disproportions in capital punishment cases.
There are problems elsewhere with funding cuts. In Georgia, for example, there were cuts and now there is not enough money for court-appointed lawyers, making it impossible for defendants to find representation. This came up after Troy Davis’s case, and has set a precedent. This is becoming more of a major problem in our country. In a country of one million attorneys only about fifty work for private, nonprofit organizations. Also, a recent study at Columbia University found that “two out of three death penalty sentences were reversed on appeal, and about 37 percent were the result of incompetent lawyering.” This problem needs to be fixed immediately. The measures that are being taken right now need to be intensified to help those who can’t afford private lawyers.
The question that remains is what is to be done. The first step is improving economic status for all citizens. This would help considerably if we were able to make it possible for all people to hire private lawyers. However, this is far-fetched, and I think that we need something that the government can take part in more. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor thinks, “Perhaps its time to look at minimum standards for appointed counsel in death cases and adequate compensation for appointed counsel when they are used.” >“Although the American Bar Association has promulgated standards for the representation of indigent defendants charged with capital offenses, and although those guidelines have been endorsed by the Supreme Court, no death-penalty jurisdiction has implemented a system that meets these requirements.” Judge Boyce Martin of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals says, “the death penalty in this country is arbitrary, biased, and so fundamentally flawed at its very core that it is beyond repair.” So perhaps now the only way to end socio-economic bias is to end the death penalty completely.

Analysis of Juvenile Delinquency

Obviously, I feel very strongly about allowing our youth to have the opportunity to reform by trying them in the Juvenile Justice System of America. How could we possibly think that the youths deserve tougher punishments, such as those faced by adults on death row? Having stated my opinion over the past few posts, I feel it is important to analyze the factors contributing to my reasoning, as well as what the United States believes and is doing to try to diminish the number of youth who commit crime. The government should force more money and time into the prevention of crime since this issue is so important to our country as a whole. More help from the government must be implemented. As stated before, prevention is vital. The future of America is at stake when we risk the moral development of our youth. Many doctors and researchers have discovered what kinds of programs will work, and the step by step process to take.

Certain issues, such as abandonment, social institutions and peer pressure all promote violence, but could be prevented through programs that implement their services within the school environment. In youth, the choices in life are numerous, and just one simple lack of judgment could send a juvenile straight to court; and, if placed in adult courts, could ruin his or her future. But, with juvenile services, the child is given the opportunity to reform. If, however, prevention is so vital, why does the video game and media industry keep marketing their violent programs to the youth of our nation? Video games especially increase the likelihood that a minor will perform violent actions, as stated by Dr. David Walsh whose theory includes: children imitate the people they identify and participate with, as well as those that give rewards and cause repetition. Video games, as well as television, encourage all these aspects that promote learning, in this case, of aggressive behavior. With such facts such as before leaving elementary school, the average American child has seen 8,000 murders and 100,000 violent acts due to television. How, then, can we blame the youth for their confusion in what is wrong and what is right? The world of a child is complicated enough as it is without bombarding their developing brains with immoral scenarios they might actually admire. Experiences and knowledge gained as a child may not necessarily be at the fault of the child, but will have a significant impact on their future lives. We must prevent these causes of negative behavior from invading the minds and actions of the young.

With all this violence in the media and in video games, there is no surprise that many children suffer from mental issues. The National Institute of Mental Health discusses a program that while extremely costly, may lower the amount of juveniles that are admitted into the juvenile delinquency programs. Also, one must analyze how it came to be that a six-year old boy nearly beat a baby to death. This article also discusses whether or not the impact of a poor family has a great deal to do with a young child who displays violence. I have no doubt that a child who grows up in a family or community in which violence is an everyday occurrence will unfortunately learn for his or herself that violence is accepted in that realm. This scenario is true because of Albert Bandura’s theory of observational learning in which the young child watches their authoritative figures and copies their actions (in this case, violent acts).

While prevention would be ideal, it may not occur in the next few decades. However, over four decades ago, the Supreme Court realized the importance of giving youth the same rights guaranteed to adults by the Constitution’s 14th Amendment. In in re Gault, the different punishments between what a 15 year old received and what an adult would have received are noted. The 15-year old boy was sent to an institutionalized school until the age of 21, while an adult would simply have gotten a fifty dollars fine and an imprisonment sentence of two month maximum. How is this fair? Why should a youth be punished more than an adult who theoretically should have more sense? In reality, this more severe punishment was actually intending to help the child never commit a crime again. The program was trying to reform the individual. Therefore, those people that think juvenile courts are too easy on criminals can see in this example that this is not the case. However, in re gault finally did take care of the lack of due processes for youth. In re Gault finally took care of this fault in our judicial system so that juveniles were not seen as “second class.” Now, juveniles get the same due process by law, even though their punishments remained more severe. Americans are realizing that the youth deserve the same rights, even though the goal of the hearing may be to provide correction, not punishment. If prevention cannot occur, the juvenile courts truly try to reform the child, because at this stage in their lives, most of them are open to change. As another example of a more successful harsher punishment given by the juvenile court system, we can analyze two kids, Michael and Jason, who were both 16 when they committed the crime. Jason was sent to juvenile court and received a long sentence in a reform school, while Michael was sent to adult courts and received a fairly short sentencing. Jason, after being released from his reform school, has not committed another crime, while Michael immediately committed one after his short jail sentence. Reform schooling in the juvenile system is exactly what children like Michael needed. With so many resources out there for juveniles to use, there is no excuse for Americans not reforming the youth.

The people of America are now seeing youth as equal under the law, in some aspects. With the scientific knowledge available proving that a youth’s brain is not as developed as an adult is enough information in itself to end the debate over whether or not capital punishment and serious punishments should be applied to America’s youth.

Analysis of the media's influence on the jury

Media has become the center to every aspect of daily life. According to a study conducted by researchers at the Center for Media Design at Ball State University, individuals spend 30 percent of their waking hours using media exclusively and another 39 percent using media while doing another activity. Amongst the media programs that the pubic views, approximately two-thirds of all prime-time television programs reference some sort of violence. The media’s portrayal of such issues has a great influence on how the public views society. According to professors across the country, the increase in support for the death penalty between 1979 and the early 1990’s can also be attributed to increased media involvement in such cases. The media has affected the criminal justice system in two respects: It has bolstered support for the death penalty by developing a fear of crime within the public and also influenced jurors’ verdict on cases by creating false perceptions about individuals involved with the case either through pre-trial media or previous media narrative.

Across the United States, crime rates have continuously been reported to decline. However, media sensationalism and exposure to crime creates the illusion that crime rates have increased. Such sensationalism has contributed to the Law and Order Syndrome. The Law and Order Syndrome states that “increasingly favorable support toward capital punishment is associated with rapidly increasing crime rates.” The syndrome also hypothesizes that there is a direct causal relationship between increased crime rates and fear of crime, capital punishment, gun ownership, and change in court system. This relationship is also supported by the Instrumental Response Hypothesis which states that “support for the death penalty comes from a desire to lower crime rates.”

Though the jury is not allowed access to media reports during the court proceedings, previous media narrative seems to influence their verdict in court cases. Instrumental Response Hypothesis and the Law and Order Syndrome show how jurors’ overall opinions of administering the death penalty are formed. Meanwhile, media’s influence on jurors’ thoughts does not have to come solely from news reports. A myriad of other sources such as television programs, radio shows, songs, video games, and newspaper articles also contribute to how the verdict is determined. For example, if a juror had previously viewed a similar case on television or knew how the verdict was determined, it may also influence the verdict on the current case. Judge Richard Baner’s order for scheduling rare late-night trial sessions in David Hendrick’s court case illustrates such an influence. Judge Baner chose to schedule the trial for this timing because he felt that the television show “fatal vision”, which depicted a similar story as the case would influence the verdict of the trial. Thus, in order to prevent the jurors from viewing the show, Judge Baner scheduled the trial for the same time as the program.

The way that the media presents information about a criminal case also seems to create support for capital punishment. The media is a market driven institution that constantly produces stories for public enjoyment. Unfortunately, court cases have also been included as a form of entertainment. It is astonishing to view the way in which the media can manipulate a serious issue such as a murder and make it into a story that the general public loves. For example, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills is a spectacular film that shows the extent to which the media will fall to present an engaging court case to the public. One scene of the film, in particular, with a news reporter amazed me. The news reporter was shown practicing her lines over and over again so that her script will interest the viewers. This scene shows how morally wrong it is to create entertainment out of someone’s pain. It disgusts me to know that people have the courage to even publicize such controversial and personal cases without proper credibility. Sadly, many other cases such as these are also present in our society. Sister Helen Prejean shows this in her novel Death of Innocents through the case studies of Dobie Williams and Joseph O’Dell. However, the media in O’Dell’s case is very interesting because despite the amount of attention his case received through the media it was not enough to save his life. Thus often mass media coverage of court cases sometimes it does more harm than help.

Furthermore, pretrial media reports are another huge influence on case verdicts. Media publicity of the case and the defendant dramatizes far beyond what is necessary. Presentation of the case in this manner often causes prejudices and stereotypes to be developed within the juror’s. According to a study conducted by researchers Hedy R. Dexter, Steven D. Penrod, and Amy L. Otto the evidence presented at trial can lessen the prejudice that is developed by pre-trial media but cannot eliminate it completely. Thus, pre-trial publicity has a lasting influence on the juror.

The influence of pre-trial media can easily be seen in the OJ Simpson case. Newspaper articles, magazine covers, and headline news all presented this case with interesting bylines that captured public interest. The media buzz was so influential that it was also a factor that was considered during Voir Dire. In fact, Judge Ito removed four potential jury members just because they watched TV. Even though the individuals claimed that they did not watch any news related to the OJ Simpson case, he knew that it was extremely difficult to avoid hearing about the case if one watched television. The media “poisons” everyone’s thoughts about the issue; preventing citizens from have a fair trial under law. At one point, Judge A. Ito’s disappointment with media coverage even influenced him to attempt to prohibit media access to the trial.

Media role in the OJ Simpson case raises some interesting questions to the public. When is media coverage too much? When should it be limited and when is it useful? These are all questions that can only be solved with a clear set of statures explaining the role of media in law. Clearly, the way that we are dealing with this problem has not been successful. Some have even sued the media for libel, yet the powerhouse is still in action and affecting peoples lives each and everyday. There is no way to escape media’s report on high profile cases. It is constantly being broadcasted to the public wherever they go. For example, the cases of Anna Nicole, OJ Simpson, and Scott Peterson have been continually telecasted for months and sometimes even years. The media exaggerates such cases beyond necessary and barely ever reveal the truth. I feel that the ideal solution to such media reports would be to eliminate pre-trial media completely or solely remove jurors who have prior knowledge of the case through media from court proceedings. Much change needs to be made to find the ideal role of media in the criminal justice system, but with regulations and some limitations it can surely be done.

Personality? Bias? Prejudice? HERE!

Under the ordinance of the American constitution, the American people hold a common belief that our legal system is supposed to be fair. The American system of trial processes stands on the belief that juries will judge those indicted fairly and equally under the law. However, why is it that this nationally accepted belief and ordinance is not being respected by the citizens of America? Furthermore, why do we sit back and let our country’s credibility be disgraced? According to Judge Miner, as cited in The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, “It is the jury’s duty to deliberate as honest men, with a single purpose of determining truth.” Thus, jurors are not permitted to mislead or to be mislead by personal prejudice. The West Memphis trial was in complete violation of this responsibility. The personality effect in this trial was evident from beginning to end. The verdict, while extremely questionable due to lack of sufficient evidence, is proved personality derived due to the differentiation of sentencing. Misskelley and Baldwin were given life. While Echols, the alleged Wicca practicing Satanist, was without question given capital punishment merely because he was viewed as being an abnormal teen. This was proven in the prosecuting attorney’s closing statement because he uses the time to further the argument that when one combines Wicca, the wearing of black, and the listening of heavy metal music together (all of which were charcateristics of Damien Echols); evil follows. The strictly conservative jury was bound to convict.In that same respect, there are questions over whether a personality influenced the outcome of the O.J. Simpson trial. It is a probable conclusion that this was the case because Detective Mark Fuhrman’s testimony, which was the only valuable evidence for the prosecution, was barred after Fuhrman, a caucasion male, was a found to be a blatant racist. That particular personality wasn’t going to sit well with a predominantly black jury. Prosecuting attorney Christopher Darden told Oprah Winfrey that Defense attorney Johnnie Cochran warned him about allowing Fuhrman to testify, saying “Don’t put that white boy on the stand.”This recognizes that the problem is evident and that the legal membership is aware of its existence.That might have been a factor in the racial make-up in the recently tried Simpson civil case, which strongly differed from that of the criminal case.

This leads into the issue of cases being swayed not by those who take the stand, but also the presonality of those that judge, the jury. The jury considered the leading determinant in trials. The true leading determinants are actually the jury’s individual experiences, bias, and preconceptions. In many cases
trials are questioned when these factors are believed to have an effect on verdicts. A large part of jury bias and personality infringement on cases is a result of certain rules of law. A major problem in the judging of court cases lies in the barring of some evidence from juries due to legal proceedings. This includes circumstantial evidence. This leaves some juries to judge cases based on the little “knowledge” (evidence) afforded to them and when “knowledge” is not available people tend to create opinions based on what they personally believe. This was the case in the 2003 case of Ed Rosenthal. Although, he was indeed growing an illegal substance (in the form of marijuana), the jury was barred from hearing that Rosenthal was taking on this task in order to help dispense it to patients that had medical prescriptions from doctors allowing them to have them. However, the view the jury received of him was that of a drug dealer, something commonly denounced in this country. One juror was quoted as saying that she believed that she’d made a horrible mistake because the barring of this evidence compelled the jury to believe that Rosenthal was your everyday drug violator. This everyday definition comes with preconceptions against it. Another ruling of the criminal court proceedings states that proof of a jury finding guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is to be verified by a unanimous vote by all 12 jurors resulting in guilty, abiding by the juror duties set before them. However, a juror in the 2004 Paey Drug case stated that he did not believe that Richard Paey, a struggling quadriplegic, was guilty of the crime he was charged with, the prosecution themselves said this. The jury’s decision to indict was a result of the foreman persuading them that guilty wouldn’t condemn Paey to jail time and that it would expedite the court process. The Foreman was wrong. The process of legality was put in the hands of one personality.

With all of this, the effect that perosnality plays in trials is not a recent problem. It is, in fact, a predicament that has come up in many cases. However, the issue must be looked at from every side. Jury bias stems from every individual playing a part in a court case. One must take into account the root of the problem in the courtroom, where it exactly begins in each trial. With this, one must look at the procedure in which the lawyers, both defense and prosecution, specifically select jurors that they assume will support their arguments. This sets the scene for personality influence because lawyers are playing on perceived bias to further their particular cases. These procedures include a vast number of questioning. In the O.J. Simpson case alone, the jury was asked over 200 questions as part of the selection process. To further aid the attorneys in adding on to personality influence, the Howard L. Nations law firm developed a handbook that informs lawyers about what to look for when selecting jurors for their sides. For example, most lawyers will hinder jurors that are in some way involved in law or psychology presently due to the fact that they are more likely to be unaffected by the lawyer's specific antics. Columbia law professor Michael Dorf says that of the 5 times he's been called for jury duty, he is yet to actually participate in a trial.
A large factor in jury selection rides on the racial issues in America. The landmark
Batson v. Kentucky decision of 1986 added pressure to this practice by acknowledging the racial inequality in cases. However, present day jury selection is primarily based on race cites atttorney Marquis of Oregon, who admits that he factors in race and gender during the selection process.

The argument at hand permeates into other arguments. The matter at hand resides in the interference of personalities in trial outcomes. In dealing with this argument we must question whether trial by jury is of good quality if personalities can effect the outcome. Since it is impractical for trial by jury to be abolished, the only outlook into the problem revolves around the procedures used in this type of trial. Some view trial by jury, the seemingly most efficient method of determing justice, as an infringement on the right of others because you're allowing people to determine truth. The fact that people are determining truth accounts for some of the corruption in cases. With this stands the idea that maybe trial by jury isn't necessary.
However, my argument centers solely around the effect that individuals have on trials as opposition to the evidence given. Therefore, I believe that there should be methods to attach more validity to verdicts.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Future Implications if our Youth is Delinquent

The issue of juvenile delinquents is complicated. Although what is done after the child has committed the crime is important, preventing the crime would be even better and more easily done. If schools in high-crime neighborhoods worked more to teach and educate the children and offer more programs about prevention of crime, the students could learn about what not to do before it is too late. For instance, the program of parens patriae removes a child from a negative environment. There is no reason for a child to grow up in an environment that encourages crime. But, once a child has gone down the path of inability to judge what is moral or immoral, the process of getting them to return to a life of quality is more difficult. Once the child has committed the crime, however, they should not be tried as adults because there is a chance that they can be rehabilitated and put back into society. At such a young age, it would be a waste to punish the children as if they were adults. They are far from being adults because the same experiences and knowledge have not been obtained.
If the juvenile crime rate does not diminish, the crime rate will continue to rise. Youth that was not rehabilitated will produce offspring that does not know what is right and wrong, because their parents will not have educated them. Therefore, it is my opinion that the issue of America’s youth and crime be solved by a better prevention program and rehabilitation center. If teens of a poor, crime-filled neighborhood were better educated about right and wrong and the laws and their consequences, crime rate may diminish. Once convicted, however, the youth should be taught and mentored so that criminal behavior will not be committed again. Youth can be taught, and it is our job to teach them because they are the future leaders of our nation.

Standards and Guidelines

Despite all of the controversies and questions surrounding it, the death penalty is still in place in many states today. Support for it has dropped because of the ambiguity surrounding capital punishment. As I said before, socio-economic issues continue to play a huge role in these controversies, because people who cannot afford private lawyers are provided defense by the state. Recently, there have been many reform efforts on enforceable standards for defense counsels. Reforms call for more money for defense counsels, claiming that court-appointed lawyers are paid well under $100 an hour.
The future is ambiguous as well. There are always going to be wealthy people who can afford the best lawyers, and there are also going to be those people who cannot afford a lawyer at all. Therefore, it is our job as citizens to help these indigents—we must make sure the defense counsels are skilled and experienced, and have the resources necessary to help their clients. Also, the court needs to define a set of standards for these lawyers. So far thirty-five of the thirty-eight states where the death penalty is legal have implemented standards for the defense counsels in capital cases.
It is important to stop the death penalty from being an arbitrary form of punishment. It is because of the appointment of defense counsels that capital punishment remains subjective—they vary by jurisdiction. For example, a judge might choose an attorney who openly supports the death penalty. Because of this, it is in our hands to make the changes that will make capital punishment fair. We must make defense counsels adequate by fighting for laws that establish standards and guidelines that must be met.

Future of Trial by Media

Truthfully speaking the future of media is in the hands of the public. It will follow any path that the public desires. According to the public sphere model theorized in the book The Business of Media: Corporate Media and the Public Interest, the more support and interest the public shows toward a subject, the more access the media is going to gain on the issue. Although in an ideal society it would be advisable for media to stop worrying about ratings and focus more on reporting accurate information, the future of media seems to lie in a very different direction.Noting current trends of media tampering in court cases, the media is going to continue to gain a more influential and powerful place in our society. Even U.S. Senator Larry Craig realizes the power of the media. In early September he claimed that his guilty plead was a result of pressure from media. Although Craig may have used the media as an excuse to protect his status in society, the fact that he used such a claim shows the power of media. If a politician who is constantly being exposed to media coverage can be pressured by the media, who’s to say that an average citizen cannot?Unfortunately, it is clear that trial by media will be a common trend in the future. It is a concept that directly conflicts the seventh amendment (Trial by Jury) and should be considered unconstitutional. If media continues to influence juror’s thoughts, then more and more citizens will be deprived of their basic rights. Unless the media’s boundaries and limitations in court cases are spelled out the ambiguity of media’s role in society will continue.

A standardized law limiting media power should be created in the future. It should spell out the power given to each form of media and how it can be used during, before, and after a court case. It would also be beneficial to completely ban any type of pre-trial media. This way they jury will only be presented with evidence when from the trial. This will allow individuals to have a fair trial under law rather than the media.

The "Glitch" Jury.

Consider the possible outcomes if we allow for personalities to take precedence over evidence in trials. This could lead to many citizens having unfairly tried cases. Also with practically no restriction on appeals, this could lead to a large number of appeals cases flooding the courts system. The courts already have enough cases to deal with. Furthernore, the corruption in court cases is a highly publicized issue. There is a lot of support and information, thanks to the media, that surfaces about today's trials. This media presence allows citizens and lawyers alike to become invested in cases, as well as, find discrepencies within them. When controversy arises about a specific verdict or there is questions surrounding a verdict, an appeal usually follows. Eventually, the verdict prejudice in some cases will gradually become noticeable and many defendants will inturn appeal verdicts. This infrigement on the law will permeate through the entire court system, thus causing question to the credibility of the court system, but more specifically, the jury. If the issue of personalities affecting the overall verdicts in trials is not dealt with to some degree, then the corruption in the American court system could be broadened even further than it currently is. There is enough corruption as it already stands in this country concerning bias; however, the courts are supposed to rely on the free and equal treatment of the American public. As the situation continues, the United States draws further and further away from the duties and promises cited in our constitution.
The problem with personalities affecting the overall outcome has really only one conclusion. It is in the best interest of justice that, in cases where there is obvious question, that the cases be given a second trial. However, in verdicts resulting in acquittal this would be a clear breech of the 5th Amendment clause “double jeopardy”. Therefore the only way to ensure to the best of our countries ability that the convicted are truly being convicted for thoughts of unreasonable doubt or that the innocent are being pardoned because they are truly innocent, the procedures in which we judge must be altered. There must be a trial by trial study of each case prior to it being tried, as well as during the trial. This could ensure that all the facts are brought out of cases that are indeed significant to the case at hand. This type of solution would require a modification to the procedure of law in the court systems.

A possible solution could be creation of second confidential Jury, personally referred to as the Glitch Jury. There job isn’t to declare guilt or innocence, but they are specifically used to seek out the problems that the other jury is barred from or swayed toward. The idea of the second jury or Glitch jury comes from the procedure of jury nullification. Jury nullification is the jury’s decision to acquit a defendant despite explicitly violating the law because the jury felt that the law or evidence was not applicable to the case. The jury would take the law into their hands. Therefore, a judge would call for a second jury to hear the case because the first jury’s individual feelings toward certain happenings were obviously prevalent. In this type of nullification; however, the second jury would not be brought post verdict. They would act during the trial. The second jury would get the chance to hear all evidence, including that in which the first jury was prohibited from hearing (circumstantial evidence). If something questionable surfaces, the Glitch jury would be allowed to confer with the first jury about suspicions. However, this would not be face t face and it would be under strict supervision. I think that bringing the Glitch jury in as a second ear would add more validity to any case. They would serve as a more valid impartiality in the court. Although, they would too have their prejudices, the fact that they are not declaring guilt or innocence allows them to look at the case from truly all sides.

There are already some methods being used to halt certain interferences, specifically by jury bias in jury nullification. Such practices include the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling
Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 23 (b), stating that jurors who individually are practicing jury nullification can be removed by the judge. Also, in some cases Judges have called for second juries to try cases when there is obvious jury bias affecting verdicts or neglecting laws. If a solution is not found, then there is a higher possibility on the infringement of the right of citizens and the unjust freedom for those who deserve them least. Court systems that stand on justice should act upon justice also. Furthermore, the United States will not be abiding by its constitutional standards.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Of Course There Are Poor People

The death penalty continues to be one of the most controversial issues in the United States. Is it fair to put individuals to death? What if they are innocent? Perhaps their court-appointed lawyer is not qualified, and therefore their defendant is found guilty. This last concern is extremely hard to resolve, and may not be fixed in our society because there will always be people with money and people without it.
In Erica Sheppard’s case the court-appointed lawyers were definitely not qualified, and she was sentenced to death although she was innocent. Sheppard knew her lawyers were not competent and would not allow her to testify on her on behalf, never telling her she had a constitutional right to do so. These problems can be fixed by simply making sure that the lawyers appointed by the court are qualified and able to handle capital cases.
Also, we must provide equal resources to all who are tried in capital cases. If we provide equal resources for them, then there will be no advantage of the rich over the poor. It goes along with the founding of our country and the ideals that we base our justice system on—“liberty and justice for all.”
Statistics show that 90% of those defendants who are appointed lawyers by the courts are virtually guaranteed a death sentence. This is startling and should be a warning to us that our justice system is truly flawed and needs to be worked on. The stories about these lawyers are appalling: Calvin Burdine’s lawyer slept through important portions of his trial, and Vinson Washington’s suggested to the defense psychiatrist that he was evil. Such stories should not be heard of and should not exist. Perhaps the only way to fix it now is to abolish the death penalty all together.

The UnAmericanism of being American?

The issues of personalities playing a role in the overall outcome of court cases is a seemingly inevitable occurrence some would say. It starts at the center of the American system. Since the beginning of its creation, the United States has been engulfed in this prejudice blanket. It began with the creation of the country by aristocrats and climaxed between the 19th and 20th centuries with slavery and segregation. Every aspect of society becomes entangled in the bias of society and the personal stereotypes derived from those bias. It begins at the countries core and it is unreasonable to assume that the United States can overturn a four-hundred year tendency; regardless of how unfortunate it is. It is too high an expectation to assume that a juror can release individual presumptions the moment they are asked. However, the real problem surfaces in the outcome. Personality influence swaying verdicts becomes highly problematic when the innocent are being condemned or the guilty are being pardoned. That is immoral under the constitution and goes against every aspect of legal doctrine. The purpose of our court system is to uphold justice and to ensure that the laws are abided by in this country. Injustice is upheld when the innocent are made to suffer and when the guilty are given “get out of jail free cards” based upon jury opinion being held above the evidence.
At the center of this plight lies the question of jury and judge. Whether it is proper to allow people to be tried under our existing legal procedure, specifically in criminal cases, and begs to question whether 12 people can act according to obligation? It’s an age old question that sparked controversial debates throughout the 19th century. According to Liberty periodical writer, Steven T. Byington, “…in the presence of such prejudices,
trial by jury becomes an instrument of injustice. In order that there should be an even chance of twelve men taken at random being unanimously willing to judge according to certain principles, it is necessary that there be not so many as six per cent of the population who reject those principles." So does the jury then have too much power? It could be argued yes because the constitution of many states allows for the procedure of jury nullification to take place. According to this law, the jury is allowed to take the law into their own hands and render a verdict of innocent despite overwhelming evidence. This would seem in support of the verdict swaying because if a jury is swayed in opposition to the law they can legally disregard it
How can one expect to abide in the land of the free when social bias is unmanageably wedded together with every aspect of society?

What Caused Media Tampering?

The heart of the problem with media tampering is the endless amount of rights the media is given and the conflicting ideas presented in each. Much of the debate surrounding media access to cases originates from various interpretations of the first Amendment to the United States Constitution. What truly constitutes freedom of press? Is the press permitted unlimited access to a case and allowed to report it however they choose? Halquist v. Department of Corrections, Holden v. Minnesota, Garrett v. Estelle, and KQED, Inc. v. Vasquez are all case that have debated the extent to which the media should be able to view executions or court cases. Without a clear set of guidelines and regulations, the media will continue to raid court rooms across the country and interpret the case how they choose.Part of the problem also resides in the public itself. Modern society has become so accustomed to drama and suspense filled stories that they refuse to acknowledge anything that is mundane. This places pressure on the media to spin stories and place a hook to everything that they report. It is not wrong for the media to report stories about the case, but slander of court cases is a crime in itself. The constant exposure by media establishes a fear for crime and through its reports creates a false image that capital punishment is the sole solution.
Many believe that limiting media’s access to cases prevents their influence on public opinion, but I feel that it encourages ignorance and assumption which is far more dangerous. The media often informs the public of cases and sparks public demonstrations for or against the case. If the media were not present, public opinion of the issue would diminish from society.
The solution to media tampering involves change in many aspects of how the case is presented to the public. We cannot prevent the public from being influenced by the media because it has become a critical aspect of life. The only way to help this problem is to ensure that credible information is being released to the public. In an ideal world it may be possible to balance the amount of information the media is given and ensure that it was received from sources such as a court transcript that are not meant to be biased toward the case. However, in reality eliminating bias from society is a task that is not plausible. Everyone has different opinions about issues, and no matter how hard one tries it is not possible of eliminating their bias from their thoughts or opinion completely.
The only viable solution to this problem is to ban pre-trial media. Pre-trial media reporting is a huge problem that affects how jurors view members of the case even before they come to stand. This should not be the case. In order to truly administer a speedy and fair trial under the judicial system, information given to jurors should only come from the case itself, not an outside source such as the media. Though eliminating pre-trial media reports may prevent the public from knowing about a case immediately, it protects those involved in the case. In the long run this solution will help create a more professional role for the media in court cases.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Youth as Adults? Absolutely Absurd.

The issue of juvenile justice is complicated. The reason this issue is so complex is that a lot of the crimes committed by juveniles are just as gruesome and horrible as those committed by adults. A very competent teen may know how immoral the acts are he or she committed, but the question lies in how severe the punishment should be with regards to the age of the youth. It would be horrible to throw away a life that could be fixed, but on the other hand, it would be horrible for the government to spend so much time and money attempting to fix this life and failing. Due to both sides of opinions, this issue remains controversial. Some of the crimes committed by our youth are just as cruel and brutal as those that are committed by an adult. For instance, a six-year old California boy almost beat a baby to death. How do we deal with such atrocities? How could we think it is acceptable to punish a child based on the same standards we have for adults? The child’s brain is a unique organ, in that its environment and experiences as a young child condition what knowledge this particular youth has when he or she enters late childhood or early adolescence. With all the knowledge we know about the brain and its development, how could we possibly hold a youth to the same standards that we hold adults? As the most advanced country in the world, we should know that the brain of an adult and a teen are completely different. The teen could easily be rehabilitated since the brain is still forming, and correct moral behaviors could be encoded into the brain.

Due to this scientific knowledge that we have on the brain, it is absurd the lack of emphasis placed on programs to prevent crime in high-crime neighborhoods. The youth is our nation's future. Is it not important what becomes of the United States of America in the future? Why wouldn't the government invest more funding in the application of intervention and after-care programs? In order for our society to continue operating smoothly, our youth must be cared for appropriately.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Personality Flaws

For hundreds of years, the American public has watched as some of history’s most famous court cases were tried within our borders. Across the United States, courtrooms have opened their doors to some of the most gruesome crimes in the world. They have been filled with the wealthy and downtrodden, the psychotic and the sensible, and the guilty and falsely accused. However, if there was one thing that surprisingly fills our courtrooms, it is the inevitable preconceptions that our impartial juries are incapable of hiding. Despite the impartiality that juries must have, some jurors are unable to act objectively.
It is not that they choose to go against the system, but it is a reaction to either certain happenings in specific cases or a result of controversial legal procedures. Such happenings include the choice of certain witnesses and defendants to take the stand, as well as the inability for juries to gather all evidence in trials. The individual personalities of the parties involved in some court cases shape the outcome of the trial. In many cases, the ultimate jury decision is not affected by the evidence, but rather it is affected by the juror’s opinion on the specificites of the trial. In some of the most high profile cases, verdicts have been questioned because the evidence does not fit the verdict. This blog serves to analyze the wrongdoings behind case outcomes derived from factors beyond physical evidence. In studying the root of prejudice in America and some specific cases, including the trials of
O.J. Simpson and the West Memphis Three, we will explore how individual behavior can unfortunately play verdict altering roles in the legal system.

Media makes its position known about the death penalty

Mark Twain once said that “There are only two forces that can carry light to all the corners of the globe... the sun in the heavens and the Associated Press”, but over the years the media has become even more powerful than he claims. It has gained an influential place in our society and sublimely manipulates our thoughts and opinions daily on many issues, including the death penalty. Through use of statistics, slander and diction the media has touched the hearts of many Americans and influenced them to believe in the death penalty. The media has succeeding in convincing the public that capital punishment is the only viable solution to the intensive amount of crime in our society. Support for the death penalty is known to have increased over the years mainly because of media reports. Sixty-three percent of the overall population is reported to support the death penalty. According to David Niven research conducted at Florida Atlantic University has proven the influence of mass media on the death penalty by analyzing the affect of various media articles on individuals thoughts about capital punishment. It is unfortunate that the media is trusted so blindly and can persuade the jury’s verdict on cases. This has caused innocent criminals like Joseph O’Dell and Dobie Williams to be put to death. Overall, the media’s portrayal of criminal cases and death row inmate’s through pre-trial narrative argues for the effectiveness of the death penalty, therefore bolstering support for capital punishment.

Juvenile Justice- Should Severe Punishments Be Used on our Youth?

The problem of juvenile delinquencies is a huge issue in America. Although children should be held to a different standard than the average adult, the question lies in how different of a standard should there be and how much punishment the young should be allowed to endure. When our nation’s children commit catastrophic crimes such as the VA Tech shooting or even something much more minor, how do we punish them? Some sources suggest that punishment may need to be tougher. However, there are those that think the punishment for juveniles needs to be much less strict and more of teaching forms. How to deal with juvenile crimes, both minor and major, in comparison to how an adult would be treated is a major issue of juvenile justice. Whatever is decided and debated, it is obvious that whatever the United States is currently doing is not working to stop of the school shootings and juvenile crimes. Personally, I believe that the juvenile delinquents need to be taught and educated about the rights and wrongs of their actions and decisions. In addition, should our nation's youth be allowed to even have the option to face death row? Are they old enough to have such a serious consequence? These are the questions we must ask when wondering what is best for the nation, as well as the nation's youth. While punishment is necessary, it can and shold be adjusted in respect to adult standards.

Socio-Ecomonic Issues and the Death Penalty

The death penalty and its use in the United States today are greatly contested. Many people believe that it acts as an injustice system and is biased—the death penalty unfairly affects those of low socio-economic status. A study in Virginia found that there was a clear connection between those who received the death penalty and the low quality state-appointed lawyers who defended them. Those who do not have enough money to pay for a private lawyer are therefore given one by the state. These lawyers are disproportionately found to be inadequate and many lose their license in the future. They are almost always undefended and understaffed, therefore those who are able to afford their own lawyers are more likely to avoid being sentenced to death. Those in favor of capital punishment argue that every defendant receives a lawyer regardless of economic status. They believe that the court-appointed lawyers are equal to those privately hired by defendants with money. However, this proves untrue when looking at the quality of the lawyers—many of the court-appointed lawyers have never handled a capital case before. There are only two ways to fix this problem: appoint lawyers who are experienced and can handle capital cases, or abolish the death penalty completely.