May 31, 1996

A Modest proposal

A jury consists of twelve persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer.

Robert Frost

Most Americans believe that we have the best of everything in the world, but that isn't so. Our criminal justice system is not only a joke, but it is an international joke. I need only name a few high profile cases to illustrate this: Dan White, Rodney King, the Menendez brothers, O.J. Simpson. Indications are that the trial of the killer of Polly Klaas promises to also be a farce.

We have prisons that are full, and getting fuller, of criminals who are not particularly dangerous, while violent dangerous ones are sometimes set free.

The purpose of the criminal justice system should be to punish the guilty, free the innocent and protect the public from people who are a danger to our lives and property. Instead, it has become a game, particularly in so-called high profile cases, to find out who has the best lawyer.

The jury system, as it is practiced here, is a farce. Juries are routinely "dumbed down" in order to fill them with the most gullible and uninformed people who can be found. If you have a mind, you can figure that you will probably be eliminated as a juror. It is one of the most wasteful systems, in terms of money and people-hours spent, ever devised. If justice was truly served, it would be worth every penny of it, but justice is served only some of the time. When the defendant is wealthy, he usually goes free, and if he is poor, he usually goes to prison.

I believe that justice and the public would be better served by a panel of judges, of whom one -and only one-should also be legally trained. Three seems to me to be a reasonable number. The other two should be selected for their independence, intelligence, general good judgment, and their ability to evaluate evidence. All should be over 50 years of age and have been employed in some occupation not connected with the law. All people who have been employed in the criminal justice system should automatically be ineligible; with the exception of the one lawyer or judge. The last thing that we need are more lawyers and judges. Nor would we want ex-policemen, or ex-social workers, ex-parole officers. They should be appointed, not elected, and they should be appointed for ten years, or until they resign. Getting dotty, or reprehensible conduct should be grounds for dismissal. If they are truly intelligent, it seems likely to me that 10 years at that job would be more than enough.If he/she wanted to hold the job for longer, it would be a sure sign of impaired judgment, or an inordinate lust for power.

There would, of course, be problems. Anything that involves people is sure to have problems, but they would surely be less than what we have now. Would it solve all of our problems? Of course not, but I think that it would diminish them considerably.

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