The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil,
but because of those who look on and do nothing.

~~~ Albert Einstein

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

In the name of justice, or despite it?

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and make a small confession. I have family members deeply involved in the justice system. And, even friends who have been known to juggle a case or to in court. I myself have sat in a court room a time or two. But, sadly never as a member of a jury. Not that I haven't tried- I've called and volunteered to be a juror, I've questioned a million court employees on why I've never been called. I've even winked at a judge or two in passing, just hoping that they'd see the "willing potential juror" look plastered all over my face. It's been to no avail. My summons has never arrived.

I jest about jury duty, but in truth it is no joke. It's an obligation each of us has to victims, to society and even to the accused. Jury duty is a fundamental principal that is tightly bond to our justice system. The legal system is based on a belief that every defendant is entitled to a jury of their peers- an impartial selection of the community who is responsible for weighing the evidence, and based on facts of law making a verdict.

An impartial panel of our peers.

Some people seem to have forgotten this small detail. But, it's right there in the
Sixth Amendment - Rights of Accused in Criminal Prosecutions

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
An impartial jury. Not inclining toward or actively taking either side in a matter under dispute, Free from bias in judgment.

That's a huge standard to live up to. Being impartial. Especially when you consider that it only takes seconds to log onto the internet- and find details about a case. When you consider that all too often, cases are tried in the media long before they ever make it to a court of law.

And yet, we must seek to ensure that the process of justice in the courts is upheld- we have to support the notion that an impartial jury can be found, and can faithfully hear the evidence, and weigh it against the charges of the accused.

Of course, doing that might just get a little hard, especially when you're looking for potential jurors in Corpus Christi.

The Free Hannah movement gained support from other local churches and pastors, who with Carver last year formed a nonprofit, In the Interest of Justice, with the goal of educating the public about the judicial system, biblical ethics, local elections and the rights and responsibilities of jurors.

No matter what happens in Overton's appeal, In the Interest of Justice is a lasting effect of her case, one which organizers say would make the legal system -- the same system they feel failed Overton -- more equitable.

"In order to reform the system, it's got to be through the education of jurors," Carver said.

I can not personally begin to imagine the ethical questions that will arise from a Church- who has actively and aggressively attempted to brow beat the justice system in order to "free" one of their own- teaching jurors about the justice system. The one they believe is so full of "errors".

One has to wonder what the relationship with this more equitable jury will be, given the legal hurdles that surround the whole idea of attempting to influence a jury through any means other than presenting evidence and argument in court, including conversations about the case outside the court, offering bribes, making threats, or asking acquaintances to intercede with a juror--- I should mention, that last part of the sentence, happens to be the legal definition of jury tampering.

Thankfully, we have Hannah Overton's pastor around to help clarify just what the problem currently is with juries.
"It helped me understand what prosecutors and what the defense do to juries," Carver said. "If you have one juror who knows what proper evidence is and what their rights are and responsibilities are, one juror can rescue a jury from their mistakes."

Proper evidence? Rights and responsibilities? According to who? I mean, forgive me if I'm way out on a limb here, but I have sat in on more than a few court cases, and I can respectfully say that I recall the judges in those cases doing a pretty good job of giving instructions to the jury on their responsibilities. In fact, I believe that the Jury Rules mentioned by the State of Indiana are reflected almost perfectly by every other court in the US. And include a section on Jury Instruction:

The court shall read appropriate final instructions, providing each juror with written instructions before the court reads them. Jurors shall retain the written instructions during deliberations. The court may, in its discretion, give some or all final instructions before final arguments, and some or all final instructions after final arguments.

Perhaps though this just isn't the sort of "instruction" the Calvary Church is hoping to teach.