Thursday, April 08, 2021

Judge, Jury, And Executioner

Our criminal justice system has a serious problem- bias and the blind biases resulting from the bias. Presumably sporting a straight face, ladies and gentleman, a prime-time host on MSNBC:


As Reid notes, "I ate too many drugs" truly is a very unusual thing to say. However, opposing  "the defense is trying to build its case on smearing George Floyd" suggests she misunderstands the fundamental nature of our jury system.

It's unclear what defense Reid would find legitimate.  Derek Chauvin was killed and someone is responsible. The defense must argue that he is not primarily responsible for the victim's demise and could blame it on Floyd's neighbor, or the victim's mother, or on Joy Ann-Reid herself. Given that none was present at the scene or in any way connected to the incident, that defense would be as implausible as it is silly.

Denying Chauvin the right to hold responsible for the victim's death someone other than the defendant himself is effectively to deny the right to a fair trial.  Notwithstanding the preference of Reid and the not-insignificant number of people who agree with her, the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution mandates "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial  by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed."  The right to a fair trial is undermined in the absence of an impartial jury.

Last week, Democracy Now's Amy Goodman had as a guest Nekima Levy Armstong following an article she had wriitten on the BET website, which quite remarkably referred to her as a "civil rights attorney." This "civil rights attorney," hostile toward the civil rights of the accused, remarks in "A GuiltyVerdict For Derek Chauvin Is The Only Justice Acceptable For George Floyd"

We have had to sit through the jury selection process, which has reinforced the notion that the justice system is inherently unfair. We watched as Juror No. 76, a Black male elder who had previously served in the military and who lived just blocks away from where Floyd was killed, was summarily dismissed from the jury pool after answering questions truthfully about his negative experiences with police. Juror No. 76 talked about experiencing racism and his concerns that killer cops have been allowed to go free. He said that maybe if he was in the courtroom during the trial, he would be able to figure out why that was the case. Juror No. 76 was arguably the most qualified person to serve on the jury, given his lived experiences that were akin to Floyd’s experiences as a Black man living in Minneapolis. Yet, we saw the system fail us again by treating Juror No. 76 as if his perspective and real-world experiences did not matter. 

The constitutional demand for an impartial jury runs counter to Armstrong's demand for a jury pool experienced in racism, in "killer cops," and in "experiences that were akin to Floyd's experiences as a black man," which are presumably horrifying. Goodman wants not individuals who have had experiences with police, but ones she specifies as negative. Those who believe they have benefitted from police protection need not apply.

Obviously- to individuals who have not determined, ahead of the evidence, the only legitimate outcome-  any experience which might compromise the individual's objectivity does not immediately qualifiy him or her as the ideal juror. 

Imagine a white juror hearing a case in which the defendant is a black male charged with murder.  The juror may be concerned with insufficient protection in her community from crime or with black men having been "let off" with probation instead of being incarcerated for serious crimes.  This juror may have one or more run-ins with black men in the community or blame conditions in her neighborhood on African-Americans.She may even have been turned down for a job which went to a black man and believed, justifiably or not, that she was the victim of racial discrimination.  

In those situations, the juror has "perspective and real-world experiences," which Good man believes qualifies the individual- if he or she is black. However, there is a prohibition on excluding jurors by race, and valuing these experiences likely would produce a jury hostile to a black defendant. The door swings both ways.

In the voir dire, Chauvin's defense team was able to strike as jurors individuals it believed would be prejudiced against its client; the prosecution did the same for potential jurors it believed would be biased in favor of the police officer. Zealous protection of constitutional rights benefits all Americans, minorities especially.

Here in the USA, we prefer the jury to be impartial, even to the extent that we utilize citizen juries, ones in which the jurors often have little experience with anything approaching the crime or criminal suspect being tried.  We practically encourage ignorance.

That preference would be reversed if we instituted a system of professional juries, in which all jurors would recognize the right of a defendant to present a vigorous defense and would evaluate evidence in context, informed by their professional and personal experience. 

Objectivity of the individuals would be safeguarded by a rigorous screening process. However, Armstrong maintains "specifically in Minnesota, in spite of the odds, we are demanding, seeking and expecting a 2nd degree murder and manslaughter conviction against Derek Chauvin." 

For those keeping score at home: that's a "civil rights" lawyer demanding a specific outcome from a jury. If able, I would challenge Nekima Levy Armstrong and Joy Ann-Reid to advocate objective, professional juries.  I'm guessing I could safely call their bluff.



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