Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Okay--so here's the thing.

Pankleb rightly points this out in the comments below:

"The jury selection process is designed to weed out people with nutty and/or too unfavorable personal biases, but that doesn't mean you leave your biases at the door of the jury room."

My personal bias is certainly not nutty and (in my view) not unfavorable. That bias is that I am against the death penalty, and just can't see myself implementing it. I therefore am barred from serving on juries in capital cases. I am of two different minds about this.

One is me about seven years ago: "Well, TeacherRefPoet, even though you disagree with it, it is the law. So if there's a trial, you need people who will enforce the law as it is, not as you think it should be. So you need to sit out capital crime trials."

The other is me now: "Doesn't this eliminate nearly half of the population from the jury pool? Are we creating a jury of peers, or a jury of those who believe in capital punishment? Wouldn't this unnaturally--and unfairly--increase the number of times the death penalty is implemented?"

What do y'all think?

Joe--we'll get you some chocolate.


lemming said...

Have you been following the Emily Murray case? Her family testified that she was opposed to the death penalty and would not have wanted it applied; the prosecutor disagreed, the sentence imposed was death, and now it's one of the aspects of the case being appealed, in this case on the grounds of racial discrimination.

It's a sad story and only getting sadder.

I don't support the death penalty, and don't know what I wold do if asked to be on a capital case jury. Are lawyers allowed to ask a potential juror's views on such things ahead of time?

Alison said...

As a semi-related note on the Emily Murray case, it was also the source of a fairly landmark case in which the argument was made that it should not be a capital case because the PDs office was too short-staffed and short on budget to defend against it. As with so many things, an awful lot of justice comes down to finances.

Joe said...

Lawyers are allowed to ask about your knowledge and opinions of the relevant laws, so yes, during voir dire, it should come up.

On an abstract legal level, the political views of the victim and their family are only one component of the decision to pursue and enforce the death penalty. It's messy, but I think it probably has to be that way. See also the discussion of violence and the law at Hip Deep.

Off the cuff, it seems that I'd be more comfortable with a system where your ability to be impartial on the matter of guilt and innocence was grounds for dismissal from the jury pool, and your partiality on the particular penalty was not. But I'm not sure how to make that workable.

Shannin said...

In theory, I agree with the death penalty, an eye for an eye, karma, whatever you want to call it. Having said that, I don't know if I could apply the death penalty to someone, especially if they deny the crime. There are too many people who have been on death row who were later proved innocent for my comfort level. If someone admits to the crime, maybe it becomes easier to decide.
I could sit on the jury, because the number one job is to determine guilt or innocence. It's not like, well he's guilty but doesn't deserve the death penalty so let him go.