Jury System

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The American judicial system has always insisted on the jury system despite the changes taking place in the developed world. 90% of the jury trials take place in the United States and most European countries do not understand why the American public is fascinated by jury trials. “Does the U.S. system carry the seeds of its own demise, as in other nations that once used juries widely and gradually replaced them with decisions by judges” (Vago, 2008, p 48)? The answer to this question can be found by exploring the historical roots of jury trials and how the American legal system inherited this practice from their previous colonial master, England. History of the Jury System During the medieval times, 12 free and lawful men were usually summoned by each community to help the king in deciding the course of justice. “For centuries these panels based their decisions on what they knew of local wrongdoing” (McLynn, 1989, p 89). For centuries the standard moral code for the community was decided by the decisions of the 12 panelists. As England was evolving into a democratic society, it became clear that the jurors’ decisions were being influenced by the neighborhood gossip. “By the time the American legal system absorbed the British model, U.S. jurors were admonished to ignore anything they might know about the case and decide the facts solely on the evidence presented in court” (Rawlings, 1999, p 55). In the British system, the jury trials were seen as potential buffers against any harsh decisions that may be handed down by the king. The jurors added some element of “civility” to the process, unlike in the past where the determination of guilty and the level of punishment to be handed down were solely decided by the king. Furthermore, the jury proved to be extremely resourceful especially during the bloody code when death penalties were handed to even the pettiest of crimes. The bloody code refers to a period in 17th century England where the death penalty was mandated in almost all manner of crimes in a bid to curb the rising crime levels. Some of the more “absurd” criminal offenses that warranted the death penalty included stealing horses or sheep, destroying turnpike roads, cutting down trees, unmarried mothers concealing a stillborn child, stealing from a rabbit warren etc. The driving force behind the implementation of such stiff penalties was the unsympathetic nature of the rich and affluent society in Britain. Since the rich made the laws, they enacted the laws that protected their interests. “With time, the British juries softened the impact of this by acquitting defendants or finding them guilty of lesser crimes” (McLynn, 1989, p 91). The Jury System in America Comparing the role of juries in America to their counterparts in Britain during this era, America viewed trial by jury as a buffer against oppressive prosecutions by their British colonial masters. The turning point proved to be in the 18th century when American publisher John Peter Zenger was found not guilty by a New York jury on the charge of criticizing a governor appointed by the British king (Honor√©,

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