I’m writing a legal memo about when evidence of a past crime can be used in the prosecution of a current offence, and it’s made me think a lot about the role of juries. In case you’ve never read into it or served jury duty, juries are triers of fact. This means that while judges make decisions about the law, juries (if they’re present) make decisions about what factually happened (ex. what are truths and what are lies). Judges play a really big role in explaining to juries how they should determine those facts.
My criminal law prof (who writes the leading text on how judges should explain concepts to juries) talked to us in class last week about how the rules and principles that juries have to apply are often really complex, vague and hard to understand correctly. It’s likely that the average juror doesn’t grasp it all. Yet, in Canada, he feels that juries generally make what the judges would consider to be the “right” decision. This is super interesting because it isn’t because they understand the law, but rather because they articulate what they feel is intuitively fair and just. This is cool. Certainly the law is not substantively fair and just, but it’s cool that it reflects intuitive notions that we collectively feel. Because that’s what the law’s all about in the first place.
The last thing I have to say about juries is that I won’t ever be on one. I’ve heard all the time that “educated people” tend not to be retained for jury duty because they “think too critically”. Well, law students can’t be on juries, not because we know too much but because we think we know it all. So then the other juries would tend to listen to us, and we’d probably be wrong/ be citing the law from the 1800s since we learn lots of that/ the law in England/ know nothing relevant about the case but try to analogize to the tiny number of cases we’ve briefly skimmed the summaries of. So anyways, it’s actually protecting the public from our stupidity!
If you ever get called for jury duty, I hope it’s a super great experience. I’ll never see it from that side!