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Courts and Court Officers (a Judicial Issue)


Introduction

When sufficient evidence has been collected, prosecutors will take defendants to court. It is the job of the court to weigh the evidence and determine the guilt or innocence of the accused, and when guilty, impose a proper sentence. The outcome of a court trial should be justice for all involved, but this is not always the case. There are some changes that we could make to our court procedures to help ensure justice is served.

Professional Juries

In the early days of our nation, juries were comprised of whichever landowners happened to be in town on the day of the trial and could be rounded up. Therefore, those juries were primarily made up of wealthy men. The trials tended to be short and dealt with simple matters that could be easily understood by those on the jury.

Today, juries are usually selected from voter and driver license lists. With many potential jurors able to get out of jury duty, juries are made up of a disproportionate number people who are poor, retired, or not working. In addition, there is a disturbing trend for defense attorneys and prosecutors to use jury consultants to help pick who they want on the jury. Instead of trying to select people who would best be able to examine the evidence and render an appropriate verdict, the jury consultants try to select those people that they feel can most easily be swayed to their client’s side. With more and more complex laws, and more reliance on scientific evidence, both criminal and civil trials generally take longer and often deal with matters that are often beyond the understanding of many of today’s juries.

With today’s more complex trials, I think that it is time for professional juries. These juries would be made up of a small number of paid individuals who have been trained in how to be a juror and have the specialized knowledge needed to understand the legal and scientific evidence that is presented. These professional jurors could possibly be retired legal, business, medical or scientific people with the appropriate knowledge and experience, or law students looking to gain some firsthand legal experience. They might specialize in specific types of trials where their expertise is most needed. Since a professional jury would already have a lot of the background knowledge about the law and the scientific evidence, there would not be a need to go over this in depth during the trial, which means the trials could go faster and the jurors would be better able to render an informed verdict.

Excluded Evidence

One of the biggest obstacles to justice is the precedent of throwing out evidence on technicalities and on the grounds that a defendant’s rights have been violated. Not only does this deprive the public of justice, it sends the wrong message to criminals. (I would hope that we never throw out evidence of innocence.)

If the courts or the police make a mistake or even deliberately violate someone’s rights, it should not invalidate the evidence. As the old saying goes, “two wrongs do not make a right”. Instead, those individuals who made the mistake or who did something wrong should be appropriately reprimanded or punished, but the evidence should be admitted. If a criminal is allowed to get away with a crime, then he or she is only emboldened to continue breaking the law.

Testimony

When a witness is sworn in, he or she promises to tell “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. Defense attorneys and prosecutors will often ask witnesses carefully worded questions that force them to answer with only the desired portion of the truth. In order to get the whole truth, witnesses must be allowed to give a complete account of what happened. They need to have the option to expand their answers to give a complete description of events and not be forced to answer just the question. In addition, all witnesses should be asked one final question, which might go something like this: What other information can you give this court that is relevant to this case?

One big obstacle to hearing the whole truth is the fact that the defendant is not required to testify. A defense attorney may give a sanitized version of a defendant’s story during opening or closing remarks, but it is unusual for a defendant to testify unless there is a chance that it could actually help his or her case. I would make it a requirement that all defendants must testify. I would think that innocent people would want the chance to give their side of the story. The guilty may not want to testify, but the jury needs to hear how the defendant tries to explain things. A defendant’s alibi may be that he or she was home alone in bed at the time, but that needs to be on the record.

Lawyers

Prosecutors should only be putting those people on trial where the evidence actually points to them being guilty of the crime. Defense attorneys are a different matter. It seems that many of them do not want to know or even care whether or not their clients are innocent or guilty of the crime. They seem to believe that it is their job to get their client off and that is all that matters.

All lawyers are supposed to be officers of court. Their job should be to ensure that justice is done. That means that the innocent are found not guilty and the guilty receive an appropriate punishment. Defense attorneys should be required to truthfully evaluate the evidence and proceed accordingly. Their job is to find the truth, which includes getting all relevant information from their clients. They must run down all the leads, evaluate all the evidence, and present a case that truly reflects all the evidence. They should not make claims or speculate about things for which there is no evidence. When they know that their clients are guilty, they should work to ensure that their clients’ punishments are appropriate and not excessive. Of course, defendants would always have the option to shop around for an attorney who will do a good job for them or who they can convince that they are innocent.

Currently, defendants have the option of getting public defenders or hiring their own lawyers. In order to balance the prosecution and defense, I would change the way that the public defenders work. First, I would always have a public defender assigned to a defendant. Second, the public defender’s office would have the same amount and quality of staff, resources and budget as the prosecutor’s office has. This means each defendant would have the same number and quality of defense lawyers as the prosecution has. They would also have the same access to investigators, police and labs. This would give all defendants an equal footing in their defense as prosecutors have in their prosecution.

As soon as a defendant is charged with a crime, they would be assigned the appropriate number of public defenders. Procedures would be set up to allow the defendant the opportunity to challenge who is assigned and get them replaced as needed. A defendant could also hire their own lawyer, but this lawyer would only be there in an advisory capacity to ensure that the public defenders are doing their jobs and would not have access to certain sensitive information. For instance, these private lawyers would not have access to witness names and addresses, because we do not want any possibility of this information getting to the defendant to be used for witness intimidation.

Verdicts

In our current legal system, juries are required to give a verdict of guilty or not guilty for each count. A not guilty verdict is needed both when the jury feels defendants are innocent and when there is a reasonable doubt as to their guilt. In some cases, the jury may have doubt because they did not think there was enough evidence to reach a verdict. In this case, other than having a hung jury, there is no alternative but to render a not guilty verdict. When this happens, the defendants are free and cannot be retried. A better alternative would be to give the jury the option of bringing back a verdict of insufficient evidence. If new evidence comes in, prosecutors would have the option to retry these defendants.

Next Section

Punishment - How to administer Punishment that will work better to reform criminals.

Last Updated:
Sunday, November 26, 2017
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