Friday, November 2, 2007

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.

No comments: