Just when we were beginning to believe that we could finally forget about the Juice, Hollywood drags him out of his Las Vegas jail cell and parades before us what many believe was the travesty of his murder trial for the barbaric slaughter of the mother of his children and young Ron Goldman. Here is the lesson of that trial and the best lesson that we should take from the TV dramatization called The People versus OJ Simpson.
Only in the institution of the jury trial do Americans really experience democracy because only in the jury trial do citizens make decisions for the state directly – government by the People. Except for the jury trial, all of our so-called democratic governing institutions are representative bodies. Citizens vote for representatives. Representatives make decisions. Citizens abide by the decisions of their representatives. In a jury trial, citizens make decisions directly without intermediary representatives.
I have stood before many juries over the years and delivered a closing argument reminding those 12 chosen citizens of the power and trust that our constitutional system places in them. “No power on earth can tell you what to do: not the judge, not the lawyers, not the Congress or even the Supreme Court of the United States. In this trial, you are the state.” We, the People, are willing to give over to representatives the power to make laws through legislative representatives. We are willing to let representatives in the executive departments of our state and national governments, governors and the president, execute those laws in our names as our representatives. Whether elected or appointed, judges, in trial courts and appellate courts, all the way up to the United States Supreme Court, represent us when they administer and interpret the laws enacted by our other representatives. In every function and aspect of government, except the jury trial, representatives act for us, and democracy is indirect and remote. In a jury trial, the People decide, not through representatives but directly as an exercise of pure democracy.
Although we Americans have a great affection for democracy, democracy is far from perfect. Democracy is fickle and it is flawed. In reserving to ourselves decisions in civil and especially in criminal trials, we have decided to accept the flaws and mistakes of direct democracy. We have decided that it is better to accept the risk of mistakes made by citizens who decide who is liable and for how much and who is guilty and who is not. Tragically, it does happen that the innocent are convicted after prosecution by myopic, mistaken or over zealous prosecutors who make convincing arguments to citizen juries. Sometimes severely injured people are unjustly not awarded money damages by a jury. Sometimes the guilty go free.
The injustices that result from the direct democracy in jury trials are sacrifices to our certainty that government by the People, pure and direct, is the best government. We hold that more and worse mistakes would be made if representatives, government agents, were to make the decisions that juries make today and history proves this to be true.
For those who believe that OJ Simpson was guilty of stabbing Nicole and Ron to death, OJ’s acquittal by a Los Angeles jury is a travesty. It is a big sacrifice to democracy but do any of us believe that there would be fewer mistakes and fewer travesties if civil servants were to make the decisions that juries make today? Just imagine that world, the world in which government paid civil servants decide who is guilty and who is liable. OJ’s acquittal is part of the price to be paid so that citizens rather than civil servants make the most intimate decisions of government. There is no perfect justice in this world but we hold that citizen juries, with all of their imperfections, in every case every time will bring us closer to perfection than government civil servants ever could.
Content prepared by Edmond McGill. © Edmond McGill, 2016
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