A story surfaced recently about jurors in some cases consulting the Internet to study information about the case, which info never formed part of the evidence. Some of these incidents resulted in mistrials or near mistrials.
Aside from admonishing jurors not to do these things, in my view judges are powerless to enforce this practice. I believe the only way of stopping it is to do away with juries altogether.
Let’s face it. The jury system officially started in the days of the Magna Carta in 1215. I’d say 800 years plus is a good time for at least a first review.
What’s a jury doing in a court of law? You don’t see a jury system in other professions, such as medicine. I can’t imagine a surgeon in the operating room, about to do brain surgery, turning to a jury of six laymen scooped up from a local Tim Hortons, asking, “Where do I cut?”
Nor do I see engineers mulling over rolls of design sketches, turning to that group of six and saying, “We’re designing the world’s largest suspension bridge. It’s got safety risks. We need your help.”
Not only are jurors not qualified to make decisions affecting people’s liberty or economic future but they are expected to do so objectively after being dragged into the courtroom kicking and screaming. The system gives them something like no pay at all for the first 10 days of the trial and from day 11-49 they get the grand total of $40.00 per day. Amortized over say 49 days, this works out to about $1.27 per hour. And they do not even get reimbursed for expenses, not even travel. This compensation package would certainly motivate me to pay close attention to the evidence.
To make matters worse, jurors know that the judges and the lawyers are getting paid handsomely for their attendance. I get the feeling after a few days they enter the jury room and say, “Grrr...They’re not even covering my parking. Someone here is going to pay for this. Let’s see, do you really think that accident caused the plaintiff’s problems? Let’s Google “fakeamputationclaims.com.”
I also find that judges and lawyers tend to project a mood that jurors are naive, generally possessing intelligence rivalling that of Homer Simpson. For example they kick the jury out of the courtroom for a voire dire. By now don’t you think that most jurors have figured out that this means that they are not supposed to hear that the accused confessed to the police, admitting that his dream job was to be a hitman.
My favourite is when the judge tells a jury to “disregard those comments”. If a judge believes any juror of sound mind will consider them forgotten and erased, that judge will also believe that the Toronto Maple Leafs will win the next Stanley Cup.
My views about retaining the jury system are clear and definitive. On this issue, the jury is not out.