Professional juries? Idea yields mixed verdict

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My mother is my hero. It goes without saying that she is always looking out for me. So whenever she comes across something interesting that she thinks I might be able to blog about, she passes it along.

Recently, she found a fascinating article in the September 2015 issue of The Costco Connection, of all places. And believe it or not, the topic was the merit of professional juries. You can view the article here.

And The Survey Says…

As you can see, this is a pretty controversial idea. Some people like it and some people don’t.

Those who support the idea say use of professional juries — made up of either retired judges and lawyers or others specially trained in the nuances of the law — would improve the American justice system in two significant ways. First, proponents argue that well-trained and knowledgeable jurors would eliminate the need for jury selection and comprehensive jury instructions, making civil and criminal trials a lot quicker. They also claim that professional juries made up of people well versed in the law would be more likely to render fair and appropriate verdicts.

Those who are against it say that paid juries would likely be “employed” by the government and that this would compromise their objectivity. They also argue that even though jurors now called to serve may not be familiar with legal issues, they nevertheless bring a wealth of expertise to the task. Finally, some say there is no constitutional basis for the use of professional juries.

From Where I Sit

Although I wasn’t surprised that this is a contentious issue, I was surprised to see that it’s not a new debate. A quick search of the Internet yielded articles dating back to 2009. I’m sure if I looked some more I could find information about the issue dating back further than that.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

But in all of the articles I read, I didn’t see anything written by proponents or opponents that addresses a basic problem with the current jury system. Whether anyone cares to admit it or not, the fact is that most people now see jury duty as a burden. To the vast majority of Americans, jury duty is something to avoid, or something to “get out of.”

Trust me, as a former cops and courts reporter who covered my share of significant civil and criminal trials, I have heard plenty of excuses from prospective jurors. Some honestly act as if they would rather have an excruciating dental procedure without anesthesia than serve on a jury.

To me there is a second, and perhaps even more important issue. It is true that jurors who do serve now bring considerable expertise to the task. But they also bring overwhelming personal bias to it. And no matter what they say during voir dire, (when attorneys ask questions during jury selection) putting those biases aside is easier said than done. It’s just human nature.

All of that being stated, I’d rather take my chances with a professional jury. How about you? Leave a comment and let me know.