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Conflict & Tragedy

U.S. Justice: Is A Jury System Effective Or Do We Need To Revise It?

July 5, 2011]------The verdict in the Casey Anthony murder trial has ignited a firestorm of opinions on her guilt or innocence despite the jury's 'not guilty' decision.

Looking at our current system where a jury of our peers sit in judgement of us if we are unlucky enough to end up in a courtroom, one can't help but feel a tad uneasy.

Looking at the Casey Anthony's case, that unease is heightened to downright panic, depending on which side of the table you're sitting.

12 ordinary folks are asked to make life and death decisions sometimes, for we have the death penalty on our books. That is a daunting task and for some, bewildering and overwhelming.

Throw the defense and prosecution cunning maneuverings and legal wranglings-- vying to capture, outsmart, twist and subvert each other-- then add the constant 24 hour news cycle that reaches its tentacles everywhere and one wonders just how unbiased and 'fair' are many verdicts.

The law as it is written, is very complex and many of us have scant knowledge of its intricacies yet are asked to sit and decipher legal language, forensics, technical terminologies, nuances and come up with an intelligent synopsis.

Some cases drag on for weeks, in Anthony's case, six weeks. Another infamous trial, which took up a great deal of our time, with everyone glued to the television--was the O.J. Simpson's case. Like Casey's trial, this one too garnered some intense opinions.

When cases are this volatile and jurers are sequestered, they can suffer from physical burn-out and mental fatigue from the stress of it all. Prosecutors and defense teams are also affected by this pressurized atmosphere and mistakes may be made trying to perform for the public audience. The stakes tend to be higher for many times reputations are made or broken in these high profile trials. Trying to get a verdict that the public clamours for can make the D.A.'s office over-reach for the maximum charge, which can then backfire.

Is that what happened in Casey's and O.J. Simpson's trials?

Whether we want to admit it or not, color, class, gender, money, education and intellect all come into play during trials and can inadvertently or blatantly influence trials and therefore verdicts.

There have been recent cases where African American men have spent up to an unbelievabe 30 years behind bars, most of them on death row for crimes they did not commit. In one case, the state of Texas is adding insult to injury by refusing to pay compensation for wrongful imprisonment. The prosecution withheld key evidence and threatened and co-erced witnesses and was himself never charged for misconduct.

Numerous cases of injustice have slipped through the U.S. Justice system and more often than not, race and class play an enormous role. Studies have found that Africa-American defendants are sentenced more harshly for the same crime than Caucasian defendants. Which makes me wonder--if Casey was an African American mother, would she have gotten the same 'not guilty plea?'

Another thing that also stands out to me is the swearing on the Bible. Witnesses are always asked to 'raise their right hand and swear to tell the truth, nothing but the whole truth, so help me God." Now really, is this the best way to get people to tell the truth or is this an archaic rule that definitely needs throwing out?

We do not all believe in "God.' There are atheists among us, plenty, in fact. Moreover, there are a number of other religions practiced in the U.S. where the 'God' of the Judeo-Christian Bible and faith is not present. Even folks who believe in God, will lie without compunction, with both hands and feet firmly planted on the Bible.

So just how effective is our U.S. Justice system? Do we need to revise it and if so what can we put in its place?