Free Trial


Free Trial Essay, Research Paper

The Right To A Free Trial

One of the most important freedoms in the American judicial system is

the right to a jury trial. This allows a minimum of six Americans, chosen from

a list of registered voters, to determine a person’s guilt or innocence through

deliberations. They have the power to express the conscious of society as well

as interpret and judge the laws themselves. If they feel that a law is

unconstitutional, evil, or even unfair they can void it for the circumstance by

declaring the defendant not-guilty. The power of the jury is enormous and

through time has become more equitable by decreasing the limitations to become a

juror including race and sex. Part of the reasoning behind the right to a jury

trial is to limit government power. Although judges should be fair and just,

total power is too strong, and could be used to aid some people while harming

others. As someone once said, ?Power corrupts sometimes, but absolute power

corrupts absolutely.? Many people thought anarchy would form through the use of

a jury system, but no such thing has occurred. It has produced a feeling of

involvement in the judicial system and government itself. Throughout this essay,

a comparison of a real jury, a simulated jury, and Hollywood’s perception of a

jury will be discussed. The television special, Inside the Jury Room, showed a

videotaping of a real life jury as seen in a small criminal courtroom. The case

was Wisconsin v. Leroy Reed, a criminal trial for the possession of a firearm by

an ex-convict. The simulated jury concerned an ex-military man who shot two

police officers, killing one and seriously injuring another. The police had

broken into his house because there was probable cause to believe he had drugs.

The man shot the officers because he thought they were robbing his house. The

Hollywood version, titled 12 Angry Men, revolved around a teenage boy who was

accused of murdering his father and could possibly lose his life if found guilty.

The topics of jury selection and appearance, the jurors understanding of their

significance, and the deliberation and verdict will be examined for the three


The actual jury itself, has much bearing on how a verdict will result.

Are the members compassionate? Rigid? Black? White? Rich? or Poor? All of

these factors can influence a jury; this is why lawyers are so critical when

making their decisions. In the past, juries only admitted white males, as in 12

Angry Men. Discrimination against blacks has always existed; and until the

fifteenth amendment was passed, and the Grandfather Clause, White Primaries, and

literacy test were declared unconstitutional, they could not vote. Women,

although the population’s majority, were the last to be given suffrage rights.

The men in the movie seemed affluent and business-like. Some of the men came

from meager backgrounds, yet they all act as if they were solvent. Also, the men

were adorned with professional attire. In contrast, Inside the Jury Room chose

a group of jurors of mixed ethnic backgrounds and genders, in various

occupational settings. There were psychiatrists, teachers, and business people

with many different life experiences. Also, the dress was not at all formal.

The differences among the jurors contributed greatly to the insight and opinions

shared about the case. A psychiatrist was able to give her professional opinion

on the man’s condition, mental retardation, while others could be more

objective. A well-rounded jury can, in my opinion, produce a more educated and

thought-out verdict. In the simulated jury, the jurors were selected randomly

and personal opinions and biases, were not considered. This affected the

decision tremendously. The majority of Maymester students are reverse-transfer

students and tend to be, statistically, more conservative and tough than normal

community college students. Ergo, the verdict was not fairly considered from a

wide array of viewpoints. To the lawyer and the defendant, jury selection is

probably the most important vehicle for attaining a verdict that is favorable to

their position.

One major problem in having average citizens making such important, even

life threatening decisions, is that often jurors do not understand how

significant of a role they are playing in the process. During Inside the Jury

Room, due to Leroy’s retardation, the jury felt that the case never should have

come to trial. He did not understand what he was doing wrong and he was of no

danger to society. One juror called it a waste of time and a ?Mickey Mouse?

case. Another juror would not even formulate an opinion for the group. Rather,

he said he did not care, but would go along with the majority. Being a juror

is an important role, and nonchalance can cost an innocent man his freedom, or

release a guilt man. After voting and discussions, the jury finally realized

their power, and decided they had a purpose beyond the basic criteria and laws.

12 Angry Men, as well, displays a jury who originally did not comprehend their

significance and was ready to send a teenager to death without even a discussion.

Baseball tickets and the overwhelming heat concerned the jurors more than the

actual case. Some members played games and told business stories rather than

pay attention. It was not until key points expressing doubt in the boy’s guilt

appeared that everyone realized their significance. Life experiences and

stubbornness still prevented many of the jurors from understanding the concept

of ?reasonable doubt.? In the jury simulation, the jurors did not understand

their importance due to their knowledge of the case being imaginary.

Hopefully, a verdict would be discussed and deliberated more thoroughly in a

realistic situation. Only one juror splintered from the majority to promote a

debate, and discuss the crime in relation to the punishment. The exasperated

members seemed more focused on concluding the class session, than on producing

justice. Hence, until pointed out, juries seldom realize their significance in

the judicial system.

Throughout time, deliberations have stayed predominantly similar.

During Inside the Jury Room, the judges told them to consider the questions: Did

he know he was a convict?; Did he know he bought a handgun?; and did he know he

could not own a handgun? If these were all true, then Leroy Reed should be

found guilty. The judge did not tell them that they still had the power to

produce a not guilty verdict. The members started by choosing a foreman and

continued by discussing each individual’s opinions and views on the case.

Immediately afterwards, the jury took a secret ballot paper vote to retain some

anonymity. They then followed a continuous pattern of discussing their

differences and taking votes until a unanimous verdict was reached. They

concluded that the man did not have the ability to understand the law nor what

crime he committed, and thus, nullified the law for Leroy Reed. 12 Angry Men,

followed the same procedures except for the fact that they took hand votes

predominantly in lieu of paper ballot votes. One major problem among this jury

was the concept that he was guilty until proven innocent rather than the reverse.

They looked at the guilty evidence as proof, and reasonable doubt was dismissed.

This case did show an ideal picture of good winning over evil; although

realistically, no jury would have discovered points such as the glasses and the

stab wound. Another negative aspect of the case is that members tried to

pressure others, until a common verdict was met. In a positive light, when the

last ?guilty? man decided to acquiesce his verdict, the other jurors wanted him

to believe in his decision and not just go along with the majority. A ?not

guilty? verdict was eventually reached due to doubt, not necessarily innocence.

In the jury simulation, the jurors took an initial vote for first and second

degree murder. Then they produced a vote for voluntary manslaughter. Next a

discussion to overcome the obstacles occurred until a unanimous verdict was

reached. Our jury decided that the man was guilty of voluntary manslaughter.

Due to a split initially between voluntary manslaughter and self-defense, a

punishment of five years, a minimum for the crime committed, was issued to the

man. Deliberations are consistent and have not changed significantly throughout

the years.

What is justice? According to Noah Webster, ?Justice is the use of

authority and power to uphold what is right, just, or lawful.?(1, 993) Justice

was served in all three cases because they were thoroughly deliberated and

considered. When sufficient doubt was present, a ?not guilty? verdict was

passed. Cases were re-created bringing all point-of-views to light. The in-

class simulation was more similar to that of Inside the Jury Room due to the

appearance, and unbiased opinions of the members. The judicial system, is the

only part of government with little corruption; due strongly to the jury

procedure. Through the years, specifics have changed in our juries, but the

same basic concepts and procedures still exist today. The right to a jury, is

one of America’s greatest rights and will hopefully remain that way for years to


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