Would you be in favor of bringing the jury system back to the Indian courts?
Are you familiar with the case of Nanavati vs. The State of Maharashtra? Even though the case was an open and shut case, the jury declared Commander Nanavati as not guilty. Wouldn’t that have been a miscarriage of justice? As in this case, is the jury not likely to be influenced or misled by popular media?
Why do you say a jury trial is “the least flawed compromise”?
In the US, citizens and states have a right to trial by jury. I like the fact that the defending party can exercise the option to be tried by a jury of peers but is not forced to do so. Do juries make mistakes occasionally? Yes, but so can judges.
In the US, juries are very powerful. They can decide that the defendant is not guilty even though he clearly is in breach of the law. The jury, in effect, can decide that the law is bad and should be disregarded. This is called jury nullification. Here’s a bit from a very informative piece at lawyers.com.
Arguments in Favor of Jury Nullification
Proponents of jury nullification point out that a trial by our peers is guaranteed precisely because we want decisions to be leavened by the common sense of laypeople. In a way, they argue, the jury is the conscience of society, and their job is not only to decide whether the defendant did the acts charged, but whether he should be condemned and punished for it. The jury protects us from immoral or socially undesirable results.
Arguments Against Jury Nullification
The strongest argument against nullification points to the core principle of our judicial system: We are a nation of laws, not men (individuals); that’s why we have elected officials to determine the law (if we don’t like the law, we replace the legislators with those who will legislate differently). Allowing juries to bypass this system can result in the unfortunate examples noted above. In addition, we ask jurors to take an oath to follow the law; how is embracing nullification consistent with this promise?
I am in favor of ignoring bad laws if they cannot be abolished. As the old English adage goes, “the law is an ass” — like a donkey, it is stupid and stubborn. It should be ignored if what it requires is beyond reason.
Coming back to juries. In the US, the jury has to reach a unanimous verdict. If they cannot all agree on the verdict, it results in a “hung jury” and the case ends in a “mistrial.” Go watch the 1957 movie “12 Angry Men.” (Over here it’s free with ads on YouTube.) I love that movie. Makes you appreciate the way a good jury system works.
To Anirudh’s question, my answer is that trial by jury should be an option. The jury found Nanavati not guilty. They were following community standards — which said that the husband was justified in murdering the wife’s lover. That would have been a certain crime in a civilized society. The whole case is fascinating.
I approve of trial by jury. The downside is that it will add costs in terms of time and money. However the option should be there. The whole Indian judicial system needs reform. Perhaps 99 percent of all the laws should be scrapped. But that would be sensible and in most poor countries, sensible appears to be prohibited.
Juries are all fine and good. Until one gets summoned for jury duty. It’s a big pain in the derriere. As it happens, I got summoned for jury duty on Jan 19th. The next step is to show up at jury selection and hope to get rejected. As has been observed, the jury ends up being a bunch of people who were too stupid not to get themselves disqualified as jurors.