Friday, 30 March 2012

A Moment on Jury Reality

For folks who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s....if you sit and try to remember your civics teacher explaining case trials, grand juries, and plain-old jury trials....you will come to this realization that none of these topics were ever mentioned.  In fact, if you attended most college government classes, the odds are against you that these topics were ever mentioned.  So allow me a second to sit and pause over the Florida shooting episode, jury cases, and grand juries.

First, if you ever go and get into simple trouble....like tossing a bucket of paint on your neighbor's car, or stealing your ex-wife's car, or assaulting some bus driver....you simply get arrested, and your case is assigned to some prosecutor.  The case goes in front of some judge, who will listen to your defense, and eventually decide on his own if you are guilty or not....then dishes out the jail time or fine.

Second, if you ever go and do some pretty severe stuff....like killing someone, then the prosecutor goes out and has to gather the witnesses, and drag you to a grand jury.  There, the prosecutor has to present his case in a secret group meeting, and the grand jury (made up of regular folks), will agree to the charges.....and it goes to a judge to run a trial and a jury to pronounce innocence or guilt.  Each state has the little rules after the guilt....whether the jury makes the decision or the jury makes the decision.

Now, there's some things that you might want to realize here.  Back in the 1960s....any idiot prosecutor could appear in front of a Grand Jury, with a pretty lame case, and just talk his way through the Grand Jury, and get the charges fixed up.

Grand Juries in the 1960s and 1970s were made up of some interesting folks.  You had a couple of housewives who watched the Today Show and were entertained by afternoon soap operas.  You had a guy or two who worked at the local gas station....pumping gas.  You had a first-grade teacher.  You might have had an Army or Navy vet in the group.  Toss in a old retired guy or two from WWII.  And you had some clerk from the local bank.  This was a simple group to convince of severe charges.

Well....in the last decade.....things have changed a bit.

So now, the prosecutor has an Army vet with at least a two-year degree and fairly curious about things....enough to ask questions.  Two or three business folks will likely be in the group.....who tend to ask questions.  The housewives group?  Well.....they don't watch the Today Show anymore....they watch Fox News, and they ask questions.  Then you've got those pesky engineer guys who show up.....who form process groups at work and can play link-the-dots on a white board.

Suddenly, the prosecutor has people asking pretty demanding questions.  What was simple thirty years ago....is no longer simple.  Cops collected DNA but it doesn't match up?  Circumstantial evidence for everything you've got?  Cops dropped the ball on several bits of evidence?  The Grand Jury can stop you in a heartbeat, and just say "no" to the charges.

Which brings us to the Florida shooting episode between the Latino guy and the black kid.  Normally, a prosecutor would appear in front of Grand Jury within a week or so after the episode.  Cops would have enough evidence to get you fixed up.  Nothing has happened yet.  I'm suspecting that the evidence collected....really isn't that good, and the present Grand Jury probably has stopped some cases from progressing.  Course, Grand Juries only stay around for a certain amount of time, and then a new Grand Jury steps in.  Maybe a second Grand Jury would view the limited evidence better.

The statement involvement?  Well....they still have to entertain the Grand Jury, and I have doubts that they feel great about getting charges approved at the present time.

All in all....things have gotten tougher, not easier....for prosecution teams.

This all is foreign knowledge to the majority of folks upset by the mess in Florida.  None of them were ever told how jury system works and how American history has changed our whole perception of charges.  Getting into a jury trial today....is probably twice as hard as it was thirty years ago.  Toss in the science of jury selection, and you've got a pretty decent chance of beating a case by having a hung jury.

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