(This Op-Ed by yours truly, appears in the June 30th, 2017 issue of Florida Today)
More than 2 centuries later, let’s revamp how we pick jurors
“There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that mandates trial by jury “of our peers.”
The hung jury in the rape trial of Bill Cosby raises questions, once more, about the composition of juries in the American trial system. Perhaps it’s time for America to innovate and make criminal trials more efficient, fair and precise for the 21st century.
The answer? Professional jurors, certified, trained and/or experienced in basic law and court procedure, selected for trials in a random process of picking jurors’ names from a hat. No more than six to a trial. That would expedite the process and do away with long, arduous and costly juror selection processes in thousands of jurisdiction in the nation and save citizens the anguish of losing time from jobs, kids and other responsibilities. It would also eliminate the emotional factor which comes into play with average citizens.
There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that mandates trial by jury “of our peers.”
During my years with Miami-Dade Police, I witnessed numerous cases where emotion and/or corruption, and not the hard-cold facts, played a role in acquitting obviously guilty defendants or, hanging the jury with one or two holdouts. Of the 200,000 criminal trials held per year in the U.S., roughly 6 percent result in mistrials from a hung jury, per the National Center for State Courts. That’s a lot of time and money for all concerned.
In 1968, Anthony Esperti, a Mafia-connected hood, shot and killed another Mafioso in a crowded Miami restaurant. The act was witnessed by at least 50 people. The evidence against “Big Tony” was strong, including the gun powder on his hand. After a one-week trial, the case was ruled a mistrial because 11 members of the jury voted “guilty” with one holdout. Hung jury. Buzz spread through the courthouse that the mob had surreptitiously contacted the juror’s family.
In 1992, after being caught in a sting, a circuit judge in Miami was being tried for chronic corruption, taking money in exchange for legal favors. During trial, the former judge actually took the stand and admitted his crimes, claiming he was addicted to cocaine and needed the money for his “medicine.” Hung jury. One juror, it was rumored, held out for the defendant.
Then, there’s the racial component. In Miami in 1980, and later in Los Angeles in 1993, unarmed black men were beaten by police officers with clubs. The Miami man died. The L.A. man, Rodney King, lived. The cops were white. The juries were white. The evidence in both cases was plentiful. Verdicts: not guilty.
What about the subliminal influence of celebrities? O.J. Simpson, a famed athlete/actor, allegedly murdered two people. His DNA blood drops were found in a trail at the scene. The soles of his shoes were stained with the victim’s blood. Nevertheless, he could afford the legal “Dream Team.” O.J. was acquitted by a jury of “peers.”
Rapper Snoop Dogg and TV star Robert Blake were each acquitted of murder, though the evidence was significant in each case. Blake was charged with killing his wife. Her family sued Blake in civil court when the trial failed and won $30 million in damages.
Wealthy defendants can afford to spend fortunes on high-priced attorneys, investigators and juror appraisers, helping lawyers weed through prospects who would most likely side with the defendant.
Criminal trial systems should be improved so that corruption, ignorance, insolvency, wealth and fame can no longer play a role in assessing evidence. The only way to do that is with trained, professional and independent jurors who know and understand court process. What matters in any criminal trial is the weight and validity of evidence, and nothing else.
If a nobody like Joe Blow had been charged with rape instead of the beloved Bill Cosby, with the same evidence, I’m sure the taxpayers wouldn’t be funding another expensive trial after a hung jury.
It’s been 229 years since the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Now we have 50 states, not 13. And more than 320 million people, not 4 million. Plus, now we have the age of technology. Maybe it’s time to modernize.