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Cameron Cilano Dr.

Bowers Take Home Midterm Essay 2/28/13 Democratic Role and Responsibilities of Juries The juror system in America is meant to maintain a democratic purpose, despite the fact that this goal has generally been lost because we are no longer all that conscious of its primary purpose. Jury duty is a unwanted task in most citizens mind due to the time consumption and overall headache it may bring for certain individuals. It is essential for citizens to understand the democratic role behind this immense responsibility. Being a citizen of the United States allows us to have certain civil liberties that cannot be infringed upon, one of them being the guaranteed right to a jury trial in criminal matters and the limited right in civil matters. This constitutional right is meant to be a safeguard from oppressive government action. This democratic purpose has been instilled into our legal and political system for quite some time now; it has not always been considered a democratic role, but merely an instrument to assure that justice be kept in the hands of the people. By establishing this notion of justice through jury duty, it is also fairly injecting normative values of society into legal disputes (pg. 48). John Peter Zengers trial is very pertinent to understanding the upbringing of jurors democratic purpose. His trial ultimately helped lead to the First, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment in the Bill of Rights, which discuss our civil liberties and

specifically the guaranteed right to a jury trial. Zenger was arrested for criticizing the rulers of the New York colony (pg. 41). A democratic state is meant to protect the civil liberties of individuals, although this was not the case in Zengers arrest. The jurys role derives from this problem because there must be an exercise of limited government in order to ensure a legitimate legal and political system. Andrew Hamilton, who was Zengers lawyer in this trial suggested that, although the laws of England might be good laws for England, they were not necessarily good laws for America, where there was greater equality between the people and those who governed them (pg. 45). This equality that he is discussing seems to imply the power of the jury because it is a substantial check on government abusing their power over its citizens. A jury of peers has its main function in fact finding from the evidence of the trial. Although this is their main function, jurors are expected to be representative of the various views of the community, serve as a political body, render fair verdicts, and bring a sense of legitimacy to the legal system (pg. 66). The responsibility of jurors working as an exercise of limited government eliminates bias from the state by putting the ultimate decision in the hands of your peers. A jury of the people allows for varying levels of knowledge, all different backgrounds, and previous life experience. These attributes help to ensure an impartial verdict, which legitimizes the legal system (pg. 74). By having a diverse and representative jury of all races, genders, and ethnicities decreases the likelihood of prejudice perceptions surrounding a case. Nonetheless, it is never simple to find the perfect representative body for a particular case, but by enforcing this guaranteed right through a jury of its peers creates more foundational support in the democratic role of limiting abusive government.

The sole purpose of jury duty is to protect against abusive state power. The relationship between jury selection and the democratic role of juries is quite interesting because it seems to defeat the purpose of stopping oppressive government. Ultimately jury selection is about jury de-selection; it is about selecting a jury that will be bias towards your side of the argument. The notion of having a fair and impartial jury seems to be lost because attorneys are seeking the best jury that will understand their story of the facts. Attorneys can de-select a juror based on a challenge for cause, which simply means they feel a juror is not impartial. Attorneys can also de-select a juror through their limited number of preemptory challenges (pg. 87). These preemptory challenges seem to contradict the idea of stopping tyrannical government. By allowing attorneys to dismiss jurors without any reasoning is only adding to the problem of oppressive state power. Although this demonstrates an inconsistency in the democratic role of jurors, the Batson challenge attempts to reconcile the problem of preemptory challenges (pg. 97). Batson challenges are rarely granted since the judge is the one reviewing them, which supports my point that jury selection defeats the purpose of the democratic role in jury duty. In my opinion, jury nullification is the primary aspect of jury duty that truly represents the prevention of oppressive government. The power of nullification is about ignoring the law and granting acquittal. Whether there is bias in favor of the defendant or against the prosecution, the jury is ultimately not in agreement with the state: the jury can acquit the defendant for believing a law is unjust, or if they think that a just and fair law was applied unfairly, or if they feel the state has engaged in some sort of misconduct throughout the process, or also if they believe the state was incompetent in its presentation of facts (pg. 227). These underlying attributes to jury nullification bring a

new characteristic to the approach in the democratic role. Rather than being the fact finders who render an impartial decision, they are merely the states worst enemy because the jurors keep the state on their toes at all times. The power of nullifying puts fear down the throat of any prosecutor because he has the possibility of losing his case. With this being said it raises the question of whether jurors should be informed of this power that they have, but does that create too much unpredictability? I say no, all it does is make the state carry out their duties in a fair manner, which is exactly what the democratic purpose of juries is supposed to accomplish. The democratic purpose of juries has come a long way in America. It is our constitutional right to have a criminal trial by jury, which makes us wonder if the juries checks on the government truly generate a fair and impartial trial. Some would argue no, some would argue yes, but no one can argue that there is not an attempt at legitimizing the legal system in the best possible manner. Certainly people are not fully aware of the democratic role that jurors play, which is why there is so much controversy regarding particular convictions and trials that seem unfair.