usingtherightwords

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Is “Jury of One’s Peers” Even Possible?


Many years ago, I was called to jury duty. As I sat in the jury box waiting to be questioned, I looked around the room and saw that the defendant, a Hispanic man, was the only Hispanic in the entire room. When the judge asked if anyone had anything to add, I raised my hand and said, “I find it odd that in a jury of our peers, this man is the only Latino in the room.”

The judge angrily replied, “You do realize, Juror number 11, that jury selection is random.”

I said, “I understand that. It’s just that I find it kind of weird.”

I was dismissed by the prosecution.

I thought of this story the other day after former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was found guilty of first-degree murder.

A person is judged by a jury of his or her peers. I wondered what that meant, and if someone in a special group (in this case, NFL player) could really be judged by his peers.

So, I went to the dictionary. Peer means “one that is of equal standing with another, especially one belonging to the same societal group, especially based on age, grade, or status.”

I saw the jurors being interviewed. The majority were young women, and many looked younger than 25, Hernandez’s age. One could argue that they are not in the same group because none of them are, were, and never will be NFL players. Nor is it likely that any of the 12 members make as much money as Hernandez did (his contract was estimated at about $900,000 over four years, though he didn’t receive the full amount because NFL contracts are not guaranteed and the Patriots released him after he was arrested).

It might be impossible to find a true jury of one’s peers, unless there are 12 NFL players who played the same position for New England and who made such-and-such money. So, the courts have done the next best thing: define a jury of one’s peers to mean that the available jurors include a broad spectrum of the population, particularly of race, national origin and gender. Jury selection may include no process which excludes those of a particular race or intentionally narrows the spectrum of possible jurors. It does not mean that women are to be tried by women, Asians by Asians, or African Americans by African Americans.

Still, sometimes I think everyone’s “jury of one’s peers” is limited to one: you.

Until next time! Use the right words!

leebarnathan.com

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April 16, 2015 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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