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Do you think the jury system is the best method of determining guilt or innocence in criminal trials?

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A justice system needs to be transparent, not just accurate. It also needs to be flexible, and provide a way for laws that were never meant to be used the way prosecutors attempt to be overruled.

The US justice system believes that 99 guilty people should go free rather than punish 1 innocent person. Even so, it hasn't always worked that way, mainly due to racial or economic bias.

Still, it is the best of a number of terrible options and avoids laws of a man over laws for everyone, for most situations.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In Japan young people who know nothing about life come out of Todai and become judges. What is more, if the hand down a verdict that doesn’t conform to the prosecution’s demands the tend to transferred to some obscure place where they have little chance of promotion. So yes, juries are good, although here again the Japanese saibanin system leaves a lot to be desired

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Judge gives Juror instructions.

I see then no point in having a jury system.

I find being judged by anonymous persons out of age.

A modern system is to be assessed by professionals who have showed capacity to remain neutral.

So a bunch of 7 judges to provide sentence would be fine to me, but certainly not some jurors who can be ideologists with no common sense in mind !

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

I did jury duty in the UK, you are NOT completely free to make your own decisions. The judge gives instructions and directions to be followed.

Your second sentence contradicts your first. Which is it: does the judge give instructions within which jury members have the freedom to make a decision, or are jury members told what their decision is and not given the freedom to make one?

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Mr KiplingToday  07:50 am JST

I did jury duty in the UK, you are NOT completely free to make your own decisions. The judge gives instructions and directions to be followed.

With respect, I'm not sure that anyone's (certainly not me) arguing that juries are completely free to make their own decisions. But during deliberations, if a jury thinks that the judge's instructions aren't in the best interests of justice, they can and do disregard certain points. That's one of the strengths of a jury - the ability to take commonsense and community standards and morals into account when the justness of a law or instruction falls into the grey zone.

I'm not sure how strictly legal/illegal that is, but the closed jury room allows for it anyway. But when delivering the verdict, you don't say: "Your Honour, we find the defendant not guilty because your instruction that we assess evidence on the lower standard of balance of probabilities for this criminal charge is a steaming pile of horse manure."

The judge only needs to hear the verdict. The rest might attract a contempt charge, which isn't so much fun.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I did jury duty in the UK, you are NOT completely free to make your own decisions. The judge gives instructions and directions to be followed.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Yes! But not in case of Trump as it is not possible to find a neutral juror! A computer based judgement should be made as that would be unbiased and fact based only!

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

They are all defective and seeped in bias and prejudice. At least a jury gives you some chance of balanced bias.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I'm not entirely convinced by this argument. Maybe plea bargaining undermines it to a certain extent because there's sometimes an element of coercion involved, but plea bargains are most frequently used in cases of "we both know you did it, so stop wasting everyone's time and take the offer." Defendants know they're guilty and don't expect to be acquitted in a trial, so they take the plea. But they still have the option to go to trial under the presumption of innocence. You're also basing your argument on the US legal system, and the same isn't necessarily true of other English-speaking countries.

Yes, but if the negotiations are based on the assumption of "we both know you did it" then clearly the presumption of innocence has been tossed out the window by that point.

Its true that de jure suspects still have a right to trial and that is important. But de facto for many plea bargaining is their only option. Likely in most cases they are guilty anyway so its not necessarily a bad outcome to the case (and as you note it saves a lot of time, etc), but it gets criticized for the fact that a fair number of innocent people end up with convictions due to it (See for example this paper here: https://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?collection=journals&handle=hein.journals/amcrimlr48&id=145&men_tab=srchresults )

Its a fair point that the problems of the US system are not necessarily the same in all English speaking countries (the US system has a ton of problems unique to itself), so some of what I'm writing doesn't apply in other countries.

I'd be careful about using Japan as a good example of civil law countries. The cops here have a bad reputation for coercing confessions out of suspects, so even if they let some suspects go, they want to close the books on a case and aren't above tipping scales in their favour if they think it's necessary.

Yeah this is true, behind every wrongful conviction in Japan there is usually a zealous prosecutor who was working entirely on a presumption of guilt and trying to coerce a false confession. I wasn't holding Japan up as an example to be emulated by any stretch, but rather just to indicate the difference between plea bargaining and no-plea bargaining.

The de facto presumption in Japan is guilt regardless of what they may otherwise claim.

This is certainly often the presumption of investigators and prosecutors, much like it is in the US, but not of judges. In light of that fact I'd say the Japanese system (despite its problems) works better (in this narrow sense) since by not allowing plea bargaining it removes a key tool that they would otherwise have to gain convictions against those who are factually innocent.

And even with the lay judge system they have running now for some cases, it's really only window dressing because the actual judges have the final say.

Japan's lay judge system as you say isn't a real jury system, its a panel of 9 consisting of 6 lay people and 3 professional judges, and any verdict must have the support of at least one of the judges. Its a kind of pointless system that mixes the worst of the jury and judge systems IMO.

As far as the plea bargain system goes, it's no surprise that plea bargaining almost never happens here because Japan is still very much a hierarchical culture: you, the accused, are presumed to be a criminal and have no status. Just take your punishment. A very different legal culture to the ones we have in the West.

Less than culture the reason plea bargaining doesn't happen in Japan is because legally it isn't allowed. Until 5 years ago it wasn't allowed at all in any case. Thanks to a legislative change it is now allowed only in very narrow cases, and only for the purpose of getting the cooperation of a co-conspirator to give evidence against other defendants. Its only been used in a handful of cases.

I get your point, and it's a good argument in places where there's little corruption. In the case where I served on the jury (Australia), the judge did allow an 11-1 verdict, although there was no question of corruption involved, just one guy who refused to budge even though his argument was very flimsy.

Interesting. I'm not familiar with Australian law, but I do know that not all jurisdictions require unanimous verdicts (some only require 3/4 majority for example).

But also remember that there are some bad and ambiguous laws, and judges may feel compelled to abide by them whereas juries have some leeway in considering the instructions from the judge against the facts and good old commonsense. This is what my jury indeed encountered, and we decided based on commonsense that the balance-of-probabilities instruction from the judge was of too low a standard for the charge the defendant was facing based on the evidence available.

I think this is one of the main arguments in favor of juries - they can inject elements of a community's common sense (however defined) into decision making which judges may lack. Of course in doing so it also raises other questions (what if a community's common sense is wrong or just plain not very smart?) but at least there is some wiggle room there.

I think we may have to disagree on some points, but I enjoy the discussion anyway.

By the way, have you ever served on a jury?

I have enjoyed the discussion also. I've never served on a jury but I work in the legal field (which actually precludes me from serving on one....as does the fact that I live in Japan!)

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Rainyday, thanks for your reply.

Well, you were saying English speaking countries judicial systems are better at upholding the presumption of innocence, but plea bargaining massively undermines that (regardless of it being pre-trial,its still part of the same process). About 90% of criminal cases in the US end in a plea bargain, so the US justice system is mainly a system of plea bargaining and trials (by judge or jury) are the exception rather than the rule. In plea bargaining the presumption of innocence is ignored and the de facto presumption is one of guilt.

I'm not entirely convinced by this argument. Maybe plea bargaining undermines it to a certain extent because there's sometimes an element of coercion involved, but plea bargains are most frequently used in cases of "we both know you did it, so stop wasting everyone's time and take the offer." Defendants know they're guilty and don't expect to be acquitted in a trial, so they take the plea. But they still have the option to go to trial under the presumption of innocence. You're also basing your argument on the US legal system, and the same isn't necessarily true of other English-speaking countries.

In civil law countries like Japan, there is almost no plea bargaining allowed at all. Prosecutors have two options: go to trial or let the suspect go. In cases where they go to trial they win 99% of the time. But that is because before that they have already let most suspects go and only proceded with the strongest cases.

I'd be careful about using Japan as a good example of civil law countries. The cops here have a bad reputation for coercing confessions out of suspects, so even if they let some suspects go, they want to close the books on a case and aren't above tipping scales in their favour if they think it's necessary. The de facto presumption in Japan is guilt regardless of what they may otherwise claim. And even with the lay judge system they have running now for some cases, it's really only window dressing because the actual judges have the final say. As far as the plea bargain system goes, it's no surprise that plea bargaining almost never happens here because Japan is still very much a hierarchical culture: you, the accused, are presumed to be a criminal and have no status. Just take your punishment. A very different legal culture to the ones we have in the West.

In a jury system that requires unanimous verdicts (which is most of them) all someone has to do is sway a single person too. Plus judges have a lot more to lose (their law license, a comfortable income,etc) from taking bribes (or similar behavior), which likely makes them less likely to do so. This depends on the country of course, there are some very corrupt countries out there where bribery is common, but its generally not a problem that instituting a jury system would solve in them.

I get your point, and it's a good argument in places where there's little corruption. In the case where I served on the jury (Australia), the judge did allow an 11-1 verdict, although there was no question of corruption involved, just one guy who refused to budge even though his argument was very flimsy.

But also remember that there are some bad and ambiguous laws, and judges may feel compelled to abide by them whereas juries have some leeway in considering the instructions from the judge against the facts and good old commonsense. This is what my jury indeed encountered, and we decided based on commonsense that the balance-of-probabilities instruction from the judge was of too low a standard for the charge the defendant was facing based on the evidence available.

Actually they aren’t. Juries only serve to find the facts of a case, they don’t make decisions about what applies to the case (they are given instructions on this by the presiding judge). To appeal a verdict a defendant (or prosecutor) must be able to argue there was an error in law committed at trial. This means the basis for an appeal of a jury verdict usually lies in the instructions given to the jury and not what the jury itself did. Appeals courts don’t second guess the fact findings of a trial court, they just look for errors in law committed by the trial judge.

I overlooked that, appreciate the correction.

Yeah this is how it generally works, and while there are some advantages like those you mention I think the argument that this is a better system for finding true facts or for reducing corruption is quite weak.

I think we may have to disagree on some points, but I enjoy the discussion anyway.

By the way, have you ever served on a jury?

1 ( +4 / -3 )

That's alright, I agree with you to a point that the plea-bargain facility is open to abuse, but you're talking about what happens before a case goes to trial. The finer details would vary from one jurisdiction to another. And like any other system, legal ones are imperfect. At the same time, it's a useful instrument for freeing up court time to deal with cases that are not cut and dried, and enables prosecutors to offer shorter sentences in exchange for valuable information. I get it, there's plenty of horse trading that goes on.

Well, you were saying English speaking countries judicial systems are better at upholding the presumption of innocence, but plea bargaining massively undermines that (regardless of it being pre-trial,its still part of the same process). About 90% of criminal cases in the US end in a plea bargain, so the US justice system is mainly a system of plea bargaining and trials (by judge or jury) are the exception rather than the rule. In plea bargaining the presumption of innocence is ignored and the de facto presumption is one of guilt.

In civil law countries like Japan, there is almost no plea bargaining allowed at all. Prosecutors have two options: go to trial or let the suspect go. In cases where they go to trial they win 99% of the time. But that is because before that they have already let most suspects go and only proceded with the strongest cases.

In English-speaking countries (probably the odd exception) and a few others, once a trial is underway in a criminal case, though, it's the prosecutor's job to present sufficient evidence for a judge or jury to deliver a guilty verdict, not the defendant's job to prove his or her innocence. I'm sure you'd agree this is the best principle, right?

That isn’t just an English common law system thing, in civil law countries the burden of proof lies with the prosecution rather than the defence as well.

Possibly, but someone who wants to interfere with a trial would only have to compromise one person in a judge-only case, but may have to intimidate several in a jury case, making the interference harder to hide. 

In a jury system that requires unanimous verdicts (which is most of them) all someone has to do is sway a single person too. Plus judges have a lot more to lose (their law license, a comfortable income,etc) from taking bribes (or similar behavior), which likely makes them less likely to do so. This depends on the country of course, there are some very corrupt countries out there where bribery is common, but its generally not a problem that instituting a jury system would solve in them.

Jury verdicts are also subject to appeal, so defendants still have a way out if they think their jury delivered the wrong verdict.

Actually they aren’t. Juries only serve to find the facts of a case, they don’t make decisions about what applies to the case (they are given instructions on this by the presiding judge). To appeal a verdict a defendant (or prosecutor) must be able to argue there was an error in law committed at trial. This means the basis for an appeal of a jury verdict usually lies in the instructions given to the jury and not what the jury itself did. Appeals courts don’t second guess the fact findings of a trial court, they just look for errors in law committed by the trial judge.

I assume that legal systems take the lack of a written judgment by a jury into account by having juries comprise multiple people who consider the details and have to justify their decisions to their fellow jurors before a final decision is reached. And because they're drawn from the community at large, you're going to get people with different levels of intelligence and empathy and skill sets who look at the evidence and arguments from different perspectives that can compensate for blind spots of other jurors.

Yeah this is how it generally works, and while there are some advantages like those you mention I think the argument that this is a better system for finding true facts or for reducing corruption is quite weak.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

not sure about having your fate decided by 12 people not smart enough to get out of jury duty.

the average person isn’t very smart.

Do you think you’re smart enough to sit on a jury?

1 ( +4 / -3 )

not sure about having your fate decided by 12 people not smart enough to get out of jury duty.

the average person isn’t very smart.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

[I'd say that holding such opinions is a good reason for having a jury system]

The OJ Simpson case is exactly why the jury system didn't work!

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

In the US millions of cases are resolved with plea deals.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I would push back on that idea. Depends on the country but there are a ton of features of the American justice system that undermine the presumption of innocence and I don't think any country in its right mind would use that as a model. Plea bargaining for example results in a huge number of people being sent to prison without a trial. Many of them are probably guilty but its also a system that tends to feed on innocient people who lack adequate counsel. The practice is not used in most civil law countries (Japan only recently started allowing it but only under extremely narrow conditions specifically to avoid that), but is widespread in the US.

That's alright, I agree with you to a point that the plea-bargain facility is open to abuse, but you're talking about what happens before a case goes to trial. The finer details would vary from one jurisdiction to another. And like any other system, legal ones are imperfect. At the same time, it's a useful instrument for freeing up court time to deal with cases that are not cut and dried, and enables prosecutors to offer shorter sentences in exchange for valuable information. I get it, there's plenty of horse trading that goes on.

There are also variations in different countries regarding the types of crimes/court level that enable defendants to choose trial by judge only or by a jury, so there's that to consider. In English-speaking countries (probably the odd exception) and a few others, once a trial is underway in a criminal case, though, it's the prosecutor's job to present sufficient evidence for a judge or jury to deliver a guilty verdict, not the defendant's job to prove his or her innocence. I'm sure you'd agree this is the best principle, right?

Juries are a horrible way of avoiding corruption or bias in your judicial system. For starters, jurors are humans like anyone else and just as succeptible to bribes or intimindation as judges are, probably more so. 

Possibly, but someone who wants to interfere with a trial would only have to compromise one person in a judge-only case, but may have to intimidate several in a jury case, making the interference harder to hide. Again, not perfect, but a buffer nonetheless. Regarding bias, the system is designed to cancel out bias by drawing people from the community at large, so you get a tempering effect. Not perfect, but solid in the vast majority of cases.

Also unlike judges juries don't have to provide reasons for their decisions and their deliberations are totally opaque to the outside world. Judges in contrast have to write lengthy decisions justyfing their outcome, and those are subject to review and appeal.

Jury verdicts are also subject to appeal, so defendants still have a way out if they think their jury delivered the wrong verdict. As for judges having to write lengthy justifications, that's fine in a judge-only trial. I assume that legal systems take the lack of a written judgment by a jury into account by having juries comprise multiple people who consider the details and have to justify their decisions to their fellow jurors before a final decision is reached. And because they're drawn from the community at large, you're going to get people with different levels of intelligence and empathy and skill sets who look at the evidence and arguments from different perspectives that can compensate for blind spots of other jurors. As I mentioned above in my personal experience on a jury, that's what happened. Indeed some people didn't really care one way or the other, but enough people did to nut it out and deliver the right verdict. Justice was done. This is what happens in an infinite number of low-profile cases, and only the super-sensational stuff involving high-profile people ever gets noticed. Those are when the law is really tested, regardless of whether the case involves a jury or not.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

With a few exceptions, mainly in Europe, non-English-speaking countries have a long way to go in catching up to English-speaking countries in relation to presumption of innocence.

I would push back on that idea. Depends on the country but there are a ton of features of the American justice system that undermine the presumption of innocence and I don't think any country in its right mind would use that as a model. Plea bargaining for example results in a huge number of people being sent to prison without a trial. Many of them are probably guilty but its also a system that tends to feed on innocient people who lack adequate counsel. The practice is not used in most civil law countries (Japan only recently started allowing it but only under extremely narrow conditions specifically to avoid that), but is widespread in the US.

Juries are a pretty good form of insurance for preventing corrupt or biased judges from making decisions that favour vested interests and the status quo. Of course there are outliers to this, but...

Juries are a horrible way of avoiding corruption or bias in your judicial system. For starters, jurors are humans like anyone else and just as succeptible to bribes or intimindation as judges are, probably more so.

Also unlike judges juries don't have to provide reasons for their decisions and their deliberations are totally opaque to the outside world. Judges in contrast have to write lengthy decisions justyfing their outcome, and those are subject to review and appeal.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

By a judge obviously. Trained and experienced in assessing evidence and knowledgeable of applicable laws

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

In modern times though we compare it to trial by judge alone, which is actually the only system available in most non-English speaking countries. 

With a few exceptions, mainly in Europe, non-English-speaking countries have a long way to go in catching up to English-speaking countries in relation to presumption of innocence. Juries are a pretty good form of insurance for preventing corrupt or biased judges from making decisions that favour vested interests and the status quo. Of course there are outliers to this, but...

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Nah.

Juries exist in common law countries not because they are a good way of finding facts, but rather because in medieval England they were the "least bad" option among several procedures available in the courts. When your other options for proving your case include things like battles to the death, surviving torture or bribing a bunch of locals to swear that your claim is correct, trial by a group of your peers looks pretty good. So the jury survived while those other procedures eventually died out.

In modern times though we compare it to trial by judge alone, which is actually the only system available in most non-English speaking countries. There are a lot of benefits to trials by judges. Countries with jury systems have way more complex rules on things like evidence since lay people are a lot more likely to be swayed by unreliable pieces of it (such as hearsay) than judges who are trained to recognize and disregard it. They also have a negative impact on judicial efficiency since they require additional processes (such as jury selection), increased costs (need to cover costs associated with the jury) and you need to inconvenience a lot more people (the jurors).

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

The small size of a jury alone leads to heavy statistical deviations, even if the jury members are really randomly selected.

This can, unsurprisingly, be looked at mathematically. It has been found that the most efficient jury size (i.e., balanced between accuracy and deliberation time) lies indeed at 11.8 ± 3.0, suggesting that a jury size of 12 is perfect to deliver accurate verdicts in a timely manner.

Watanabe, T. A numerical study on efficient jury size. Humanit Soc Sci Commun 7, 62 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-020-00556-1

3 ( +5 / -2 )

No, of course not. The small size of a jury alone leads to heavy statistical deviations, even if the jury members are really randomly selected. It only would work nearly correct at a jury sized similar big to number of voters in political surveys or polls.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

I say no, look at the OJ Simpson trial. He was clearly guilty.

I'd say that holding such opinions is a good reason for having a jury system.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

The trial by jury is not so great. But it's better than any alternatives. Paraphrasing.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

GBR48

No. Random people with random views and prejudices,

It's the same with judges. However, most people can rise to the occasion.

and no training,

Well, they do get instructions from the judge.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Yes because the alternative is the Japanese of a panel of judges and sometimes a layperson.

8 ( +12 / -4 )

runner3Today  10:35 am JST

I say no, look at the OJ Simpson trial. He was clearly guilty.

I agree he was clearly guilty, but I think his trial was more a circus than a legal procedure, and was a major exception to the rule. Same with the Trump cases (regardless of which side you take, it's hard to claim they aren't circuses too).

4 ( +7 / -3 )

I say no, look at the OJ Simpson trial. He was clearly guilty.

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

The jury system isn't perfect, partly for the reasons that GBR pointed out above, but it's pretty good insurance against the potential biases of a judge (as impartial as they try to be in the main), and gets several heads from various walks of life to consider evidence and circumstances that a judge might not consider, and also to ignore bad laws that judges might otherwise follow. Having served as the jury foreman on a criminal case, I have first-hand experience in the matter.

Of the 12 people in that jury, about half were genuinely interested in being there (me included) and delivering a verdict based on the facts presented by both sides. There were some bright people across a range of ages, from a young woman fresh out of vocational college to a mechanical engineer in his fifties. One of the jurors was dead-set on guilt almost from the outset, and the others were just along for the ride and would be happy with what the interested people decided. I can't claim that this is what happens in every case, but others with jury experience I've talked to about it have told similar stories.

So, yeah, some people don't really care or aren't equipped with the expertise to grasp some of the more technical points or the patience or intellect to see through some of the BS sprouted by lawyers for both sides.

But I do think that having a panel of peers to deliberate on the facts is useful in ignoring bad laws and instructions given by judges. In one of the charges the defendant was facing in my case, the judge instructed us to use the lower standard of balance of probabilities instead of beyond reasonable doubt to determine guilt. We ignored this instruction in the jury room because a couple of the witnesses for the prosecution were so unreliable that we thought they were outright lying out of spite. Balance of probabilities, in our opinion, flipped the burden of proof in the prosecution's favour, and this was unacceptable given other facts in the case related to the other charges.

In the end, the judge allowed a 11-1 not-guilty verdict on all charges, with Mr Stick in the Mud refusing to change his mind throughout the process despite his arguments holding little water.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

I think it is a better option, especially for Japan where we see that the prosecutors have considerable sway over the Judges.

6 ( +11 / -5 )

No. Random people with random views and prejudices, and no training, angry at having been dragged from their lives for an unpaid chore.

A diverse group of professional, trained jurors would be better. Especially in complex trials involving particular sectors (tech, finance).

3 ( +11 / -8 )

No, the best method would be complete honesty by all concerned but, given that that is unlikely, it is probably better than some system that includes judges who can be orchestrated politically.

-3 ( +4 / -7 )

On the one hand, I think you get more impartiality with a jury, on the other hand, juries can be swayed more by appeals to emotion and it is darned annoying to have to work for the court for a potentially lengthy period of time. How about a "jury" of 12 judges where they have to be unanimous to convict?

2 ( +7 / -5 )

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