Why Jury Trials Don’t Work
Convicted 9/11 terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui was spared the death penalty because of one jurors’ unexplained and unsupported beliefs.
The jury voted 11 to 1 on at least one of the three terrorism charges against Moussaoui. As they repeatedly took votes by secret ballot, the holdout not only refused to identify themselves, they also declined to reveal the reason behind their decision. This prevented the jurors from having any kind of rational discussion of the matter, and also prevented them from delving deeper into the massive volumes of evidence.
[The jury foreman] said the jurors did not want any notes sent to the judge, so they decided that the whole group would raise anti-death penalty issues because that way the lone dissenter would not feel isolated or "ganged up on." Deliberations continued, but the foreman said the lone dissenter still did not raise any issues. Three days later, jurors delivered their decision to Brinkema.
The foreman said at the end of the deliberations she felt better about the process but not the outcome.
"I felt frustrated," she said, "because I felt that many of us had been cheated by the anonymity of the ‘no’ voter. We will never know their reason. We will never be able to hold their reason up to the light and the scrutiny of evidence, fact and law."
Obviously, there was one juror who was just not going to agree to the death penalty, no matter what the law said. And they concealed their intentions in a most cowardly manner.
I actually agree with the sentence of life, but only because I think it will be a worse experience for Moussaoui than death. Death is what he wanted, so that he could become a martyr. Politically, for America, martyrdom would not have been a good thing. But this is arguing from result, and our nation was built on principles being applied evenly and across the board. If U.S. law says that Moussaoui should have gotten death, then a single jurors’ unsupported belief should not have gotten in the way.
Robert A. Heinlein developed a solution to this problem in his novel Stranger in a Strange Land. It was the creation of a new class of arbitrator, called the "fair witness." This was a person whose job it was, and who trained their entire life, to be objective. It could be argued that judges are supposed to act this way. But I’d say today’s arbitrators actually come closer.
From the Heinlein concordance:
Fair Witness: A Person rigorously trained to observe, remember, and report without prejudice, distortion, lapses in memory, or personal involvement.
Absent such a person, we have seen what beliefs can do to the democratic process. To me, jury trials are less than worthless. They are a total connivance and manipulation. Any trial lawyer will tell you cases are won and lost based on jury selection. This is clearly not what the framers of the U.S. constitution had in mind.