Thursday, July 14, 2011

An alternative to the jury system?

Criticism of the jury system is probably as old as the jury system itself.  But while criticizing is one thing, coming up with a better alternative is another.  And for years, I had thought that the jury system was pretty darn good as it is.  But then I got an idea: Why don’t we just let Nancy Grace decide?

My idea came to me after the Casey Anthony trial.  As everyone knows by now, the prosecution in the Anthony case floated a lot of theories and possibilities in front of the jury, but didn’t have anything to actually link Anthony to the crime.  As a result, the jury came back “not guilty.”  (Interestingly, at least one juror reported that he wanted to convict and wished there had been evidence of guilt.)    

But then I learned that Nancy Grace, a legal commentator on cable television, had evidence that Casey Anthony was guilty but had somehow managed to escape justice.  My interest was piqued.  Sure, I've seen Nancy Grace before when Joel McHale was lampooning her on The Soup, but that was about my only exposure.  So when I heard she had evidence that the rest of us, including the jurors, didn’t have, I felt compelled to take a closer look. 

It turns out that Nancy—the “lady with a firm sense of right and wrong and an even firmer helmet of hair”—didn’t have any evidence at all.  Sure, she was adamant that the “cooky jury” got it wrong, that the defendant actually committed the crime, that after the verdict “the devil is dancing,” and that all of her pro-prosecution trial coverage was “the truth.”  But she didn’t, as it turns out, have any evidence.  And therein lies the problem: Nancy is a prosecutor (or former prosecutor) who is arrogant enough to think that she can “know” things without evidence.  Evidence (or lack of evidence) be damned.  Nancy just knows.  It’s a super power.    

But Nancy and others like her would do well to keep their arrogance in check.  It was fun to go back in time a few years to watch Nancy condemn the Duke Lacrosse players when they were charged with rape.  She implied that they would hire “high priced lawyers” to try and beat the case, and she mocked a rather calm and thoughtful guest on her show who suggested the defendants might be innocent because the evidence contradicted the allegations.  The distinction between the two—evidence and allegations—was lost on Nancy, who agreed with her second guest that “irregularities” or "inconsistencies" between the two must be disregarded when deciding who is guilty.  Of course, we all know how the Duke Lacrosse case turned out.

So while the jury system may not be perfect, it’s probably pretty good.  And it’s certainly better than letting Nancy Grace decide.              

1 comment:

  1. Nancy Grace is a personification of a big problem with our country. Too little reliance on critical thinking - too much reliance on her "instincts".
    Not much to add, I just wanted to chime in to say I enjoy the blog and hope to spread the word to get a larger discussion here.