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American Jury System is Still a Good Idea Or not

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The legal system is the procedure in which the law is enforced. It dictates an individual’s rights, responsibilities, & limitations. Two major examples of legal systems are civil law & common law. Civil law, also referred to as non-criminal law in some nations, is concerned mostly with disputes between individuals or between an individual & the government, such as libel (defamation), negligence, or breach of contract. Common law is different from civil law as it does not refer to written laws passed by legislatures. Instead, it refers to the rules made by judges in cases. That means that in common law, past legal rulings act as precedence & influence future legal rulings. Most types of torts are examples of common law.

In general, the legal system could differ from one nation to another. That is why it was necessary to adopt an international viewpoint: one that governs intercountry actions & is the same in all nations. That is why international law, which is a set of laws universally recognized by sovereign states, was created. Human rights, military rules, & most importantly, trade between two nations are among the subjects that international law encompasses. International law does not only dictate how a nation is supposed to treat another but also dictates how citizens of these nations should interact with & treat each other.

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It is necessary to realize that no system is fool-proof. After all, hospitals do not cure every single outpatient. Similarly, there is no guarantee that the legal system is going to properly prosecute every defendant- the innocent can be found guilty & the guilty could be found not guilty. This risk does not mean, however, that the legal system is in any way ineffective or does not attempt to minimize such (rather rare) occurrences. In fact, the legal system employs methods that are so precise & delicate it would be impossible to touch on all of them in this research. In this research, I will be focusing on one of the most effective methods the legal system has employed to battle unfair verdicts- the jury system. I will attempt to thoroughly discuss this system & its benefits, while also recognizing its flaws. Once again, achieving 100% efficiency is impossible, & the legal system, despite trying to maximize its efficiency, is no exception.

The jury system is a system where a group of 12 individuals, called jurors, decide the verdict of a trial after considering the evidence. The jury’s decision is their own, not swayed by lawyers or judges, but only by the evidence. Decisions made by the jury have to be unanimous, which means that if 11 jurors believe a defendant is not guilty & one juror believes they are guilty, a retrial happens. When this occurs, the jury is called a hung jury. Not all trials have a jury, but those who do are called jury trials, which are especially prevalent among murder trials. In most trials, it is completely up to the defendant to decide if they want a jury or not. The jury system is carefully designed into complex stages, all of which are governed by specific requirements and procedures. These stages ensure that in the end, the jury is impartial and delivers an appropriate, fair verdict.

The first stage of the jury system is jury selection. Jury selection refers to the process in which the prosecution and the defense choose the 12 jurors. At first, a randomly selected panel of jurors called a venire is chosen. The venire then undergoes a ‘filtering’ process. First, the judge questions the potential jurors to determine if they are legally allowed to be on jury duty or are excused (ex: a person who has surgery). Then, both lawyers question the jurors to ensure they are impartial. After questioning, the lawyers begin dismissing potential jurors through challenges for cause or peremptory challenges. Challenges for cause are made to prove a potential juror is unqualified; they can be used as much as needed. It includes actual bias (in which they admit they are not impartial) and implied bias (in which the juror’s personality or behavior makes it seem like they will not be impartial). Lawyers also dismiss potential jurors who appear to favor the other side through peremptory challenges, which can be used for a limited amount of time.

It is important to understand that jurors are still human beings and have and are entitled to their own opinion (thus peremptory challenges). The purpose of jury selection is to filter out unfit candidates, such as those who are extremely in favor of their opinion and are not open to any other suggestions. Its purpose is not to filter out people with opposing opinions. In fact, a jury panel could have jurors with distinct opinions. This allows some lawyers in death penalty trials to choose jurors who are against the death penalty (but are still impartial and open to suggestions) to minimize the risk of their defendant getting the death penalty.

A problem arises when the jury gets influenced by the media. This ruins their impartial nature and could result in an unfair trial. To combat this, some juries may be sequestered after selection. Sequestered juries are kept in a private location in which they cannot access any media (TV, internet, etc…) and cannot be contacted by anyone on the outside. These juries are left to decide the verdict solely on the facts of the trial. Although this process is rare, it has received a fair share of criticism for two reasons: stress and discouragement. A lot of sequestered jurors have reported that the stress of being isolated from their families and friends produces an effect opposite of intended, making it harder to decide the verdict. Many jurors also worry about being sequestered, so they get discouraged from showing up to jury service (although it is mandatory).

Next, the jury attends the trial and listens to the facts and arguments from both sides. After the jury has listened to the final arguments/closing statement, they go to the jury room for jury deliberations, which is the process of discussing, or deliberating, the findings and facts of the trial. No one from the outside can communicate with the jury now. One of the jurors is assigned to be the presiding juror, who oversees the discussion and holds voting procedures. Jury deliberation is the utmost important part of the entire trial because it decides the fate of the defendant. After jury deliberations are over and the jury has decided the verdict, they inform the judge and the verdict is read in the next court session.

In terms of effectiveness, the jury system has worked to be very effective. The presence of a jury ensures that the trial is fair and that the government/prosecution cannot oppress the defendant in any way. It also takes the opinion of 12 individuals instead of one judge when it comes to the verdict (this does not ensure that the verdict is more accurate, though, since mass mentality is a logical fallacy). Furthermore, these opinions come from people in society, which shows that the government considers the opinions of its people.

However, the jury system is not free from its flaws. Although the jury is prepared beforehand, this does not ensure that they are going to follow along with the legal jargon. This may confuse them and lead to an unfair verdict in the worst-case scenario. The stress of being a juror, as briefly mentioned earlier, is very immense, especially if they are sequestered (keep in mind that trials could go on for years. OJ Simpson’s jury was sequestered for 265 days!). Finally, as also mentioned earlier, a juror may be impartial at the time of selection, but they may develop a biased opinion through the media. This, of course, maybe dealt with using jury sequestration, but since that is quite rare, they are most likely to be left alone.

The table below summarises the advantages and disadvantages of the jury system among with more notable advantages/disadvantages.

Ultimately, the jury system has proven to be a very crucial addition to the legal system. Its intricate processes, carefully engineered requirements, and, above all, its noble cause have all given it the positive reputation it deserves. To conclude, a summary of all the discussed points is attached. 

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