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Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 12 May 2014

-The Compartmentalization of Injustice

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Jury BoxThis is a follow-up to a post some weeks ago in which we shared with you the thoughts of a grand juror on the psychology that leads so many people toward injustice. Here are some more of her observations.

The Compartmentalization of Injustice

When I was on grand jury duty we were told again and again that we were not to think about the consequences. When people asked what the possible punishment could be – because they clearly did not think the person should go to prison – the prosecutors would refuse to answer. When people had questions about the legality of searches, the prosecutors would tell us that the defense attorney would worry about that. When people asked questions about the flimsy evidence, the prosecutors told them that those matters would get settled at trial – knowing full well the case would never go to trial.

I tried to muster up some sympathy for the other jurors. I reminded myself that they had not spent the last decade learning about the torture in our prisons. But try as I might I could not find it in me to let go of the rage. It isn’t just that I was in a room full of people who remained willfully ignorant about a system that affects tens of thousands of their neighbors in this city. It was that there has never been a time in my entire life when someone would have told me not to think about what might happen at the end of the line and I would have just saluted and gone along.

What kind of person does that?

On my better days I tried to focus on just how hard the system works to keep us compartmentalized. Without compartmentalization, the whole system would fail. As obedient as the people in that grand jury room were, had they had the opportunity to determine the actual consequences, I believe many of them would have refused to send people to prison. And I say that knowing that they were almost completely unaware of what happens in those places.

What is it about the legal system that leads normally decent people to aid and abet crimes against their neighbors under color of law? Beyond the desire to be cooperative that this grand juror identified in the post we shared with you earlier, she also identifies the isolation of each task in the legal system as one of its features that helps blind people to the injustices to which they are accessories. It is important that when we serve as jurors, whether on grand or petit juries, we take into consideration the full picture before rendering our decision on any matter before us. We have the duty to consider an accurate and full story before we take any steps that aid in punishing another person.

 

 

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