JURIES ON TRIAL: Faces of American Justice by Paula DiPerna

JURIES ON TRIAL: Faces of American Justice

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According to freelance journalist DiPerna, the US jury-system is in peril, being unfairly blamed for the failings of American criminal (and civil) justice. So, taking off from this exaggerated premise, she offers a freeform defense--mostly by showing that in many cases the problems aren't with the jury system, but with abuses of the system (which will come as a surprise to nobody). After a brief history of the jury concept, DiPerna follows the jury-trial process from the start, focusing primarily on the jury-selection process: the imbalances within the supposedly ""random pool"" of potential jurors; and the ""voir dire"" procedure, which is especially subject to lawyerly manipulations--from sneaky jury-""education"" to the excesses of psychological/marketing research (in quest of the ""demographic profile"" of desirable jurors) to the racial-prejudice possibilities in the peremptory challenge. (Despite recent court rulings, ""such abuse takes place still, before one's very eyes."") Specific cases are used to support this view of lawyer/judge behavior as the real problem--including a detailed, but inconclusive, summary of the Brink's trial. There are bits from post-trial interviews with jurors, contrasting opinions from legal scholars and courtroom practitioners, plus discussion of money-awards in civil suits and the jury's little-known right to ""nullify"" (agreeing on the facts but opposing the law as interpreted by the judge). And the inevitable conclusion: ""while there are unjust acquittals, as well as unjust civil findings, many of them, I suspect, could be eliminated by less manipulative trial practices and jury selection, clearer charges and better public education on the role of the jury."" Uncoordinated specifics mixed with commonplace generalizations: a largely ineffectual report, with neither the impact of a case-study closeup nor the authority of a comprehensive survey.

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 1984
Publisher: Dembner--dist. by Norton