Does a Defendant Get Treated More Fairly By a Judge Rather Than a Jury?
This essay will argue that a judge is more likely to treat a defendant fairly than a jury would when deliberating on issues in court. This will be done by first examining the flaws within the jury system. This examination will look at the way human behaviour and beliefs may lead to unfair decisions including, religion, the decisional regret theory, and improper behaviour of jurors. This will be followed by an examination of the difficulties faced in making group decisions, and how this impacts the defendants right to a fair trial. Evidence will then be presented explaining why judges are able to render fairer decisions.
When looking at the role of jurors and their ability to render fair decisions based on the evidence presented to them it is important to understand who they are. They are randomly selected people who to listen to evidence and come to a conclusion based on this evidence. In most cases they are not legal experts. This can lead to unfair and biased decisions for a variety of reasons including religion, the decisional regret theory, and improper behaviour of these randomly selected people. The religion of an individual juror may influence or bias their decision making process. This has created challenges for the court system because jurors have cited religious beliefs as validation for their decisions. (Meyers, 2010, p. 461) This creates a potential for bias from the jurors decision making process, when morality and religion should be separated. It shows that the jurors decision may be influenced by religion and not by law or the evidence before them. This could lead to unfair decisions being made whereas a judge would be trained to make decisions based only from the law.
The decisional regret theory attempts to explain how people will feel regret for the decisions which are made by a group, in this case the jury. (Wolf, 2010, p. 477) It discusses the decision making process when there is uncertainty involved, and how people may feel regret for the consequences of their decision. An example of this states that jurors “are asked to decide whether the prosecution has proven charges beyond every reasonable doubt; as a result, jurors will think about regret because the legal concept ‘reasonable doubt’ inherently denotes some uncertainty.” (Wolf, 2010, p. 478) This shows that jurors may not come to the correct or fair decision because of regret or uncertainty. A judge who has more experience in dealing with these issues would be better able to arrive at a fair decision for the defendant.
There is a lot of evidence to show that jurors are not qualified, responsible or educated enough to carry out their responsibility to arrive at a fair decision. This can be demonstrated through examples of past juror behaviour, and the CSI effect theory. Examples of jurors behaving poorly in the past include a jury that was deadlocked came to its decision in a murder trial by flipping a coin . (Wolf, 2010, p. 475) This clearly was not a fair way to decide the trial for the defendant. In other cases jurors have been caught listening to mp3 players during the trial, or communicating on social networking sites about the trial. (Wolf, 2010, p. 75) This shows that the jurors did not give their full attention to the trial evidence, or may have been influenced by outside sources. When this occurs it limits the ability of the defendant to receive a fair trial.
The CSI effect theory states that jurors are under educated in matters of law, forensic science and the ability to distinguish between opinion and fact. They draw a lot of their conclusions based on what they have seen on criminal television shows and believe that real life trials should be run in the same swift, conclusive manner. (Robbers, 2008, p. 93) An example of this occurring comes from a case in which a defendant was acquitted because there was no finger printing done on a piece of evidence. The jury believed that this should have been done even though the evidence had been handled by to many other people. (Robbers, 2008, p. 93) Even though there was other evidence linking the defendant to the case, the juries’ lack of knowledge of how forensic evidence worked led to an unfair decision. A judge in this case would have better understanding of these processes, which would lead to better decisions.
Another flaw within the jury system is the difficulties surrounding unanimous decision making. This part of the argument will examine how group decisions are often taken over or controlled by an individuals own experience, and that in many cases of group work certain facts are over analyzed while some are ignored completely. The impacts of this on juries will be shown to see how judges in many cases are better able to reach fair decisions regarding the defendant on their own.
Studies of group decision making have shown that people are often influenced by their own personal beliefs and experiences. This causes them to view evidence or information in their own unique ways. It becomes difficult as a group to decide what evidence is relevant to their discussion. (Meyers, 2010, p. 458) In the case of a jury this is very important because choosing what evidence is relevant could impact the decision making process and ultimately whether or not the jury treats the defendant fairly be evaluating all of the evidence. Studies have shown that individual jurors only remember or evaluate about 55 percent of the evidence that is presented before them. (Greene, 2008, p. 372) This seems to be a low percentage to because a defendant deserves to have all of the evidence evaluated. However, jurors seem to only retain a little over half of the information presented which is not fair. The same study showed that when the individual jurors must discuss the evidence only 29 percent of the evidence is discussed as a group. (Greene, 2008, p. 372) This shows that the group decision making process is flawed. It leads to a large amount of evidence being overlooked or lost through the process of trying to reach a unanimous decision. If a judge on his own were to make the decisions it would remove group complications and allow someone with an understanding of the legal system to make better and fairer decisions.
The final part of this essay will examine how judges are in a better situation to make fair decisions for the defendant than a jury is. This will be shown how judges are professionals who are educated about the legal system who have received proper training, how people perceive fairness and the judges role in protecting the rights of a defendant ensuring they receive a fair trial. Judges are tasked with the job of ensuring that defendants receive proper legal representation, that their rights are not violated, and that court personal are professional in their work. To do this a judge must “be neutral, and impartial especially at the trial stage.” (Sanborn Jr., 2001, p. 311) This shows that judges are trained and aware of the legal system better than jurors. It is one of there jobs to ensure that a fair trial is granted to the defendant through proper court procedures and impartial decisions made by the court. They are more likely to avoid using their own bias when making decisions because their jobs depend on remaining impartial and fair. This is done by following legal guidelines and procedures and examining evidence based on the law. These are guidelines that must be followed when judges makes decisions. (Ball, 2008, p. 434) This allows for a fair process by a professional who is trained in dealing with the legal proceedings a defendant is participating in. This is important because it creates a perception of fairness when the legal system deals with its participants through professional interaction and requires a consistent decision making process. (Sprott, 2010, p. 272) This professionalism and consistency is not created when a jury is used to make these decisions. It shows how judges are more likely to make what is considered a fair decision for a defendant during trial.
This essay has argued that judges are more likely to treat a defendant fairly than a jury through the legal decisions they make. The essay has shown how there are many flaws within the jury system, including improper human behaviour, lack of knowledge of the legal system, and the difficulties of coming to consensus when making group decisions. It has also demonstrated how judges are better prepared to make important legal decisions in a neutral and impartial manner which in turn leads to what is perceived as fair decisions for the defendant and other people involved in the legal process. There are many flaws and issues with the jury system that must be worked out in order for it to consistently return fair results for a defendant regardless of their guilt.