The Gladiatorial Model
The U.S. model of jurisprudence is based on the notion of adversarial conflict between prosecution and defense. The basic presumption is that the Truth will prevail as a result of the two sides fighting it out in front of a jury of twelve citizens who must all agree on a verdict of guilty or not guilty on each charge.
The gladiatorial nature of American court room proceedings cannot be better illustrated than by the high profile, Casey Anthony murder trial. Yesterday’s fireworks in the court room was an apt prelude to the celebrations going on today all over the nation as we celebrate our Independence and the Constitutional principles on which the country was founded. It is a reminder to all of us not to sit idly by and to allow these principles to be compromised or lost.
As lead defense attorney, Jose Baez, called to our attention so dramatically in his closing arguments to the jury, the Casey Anthony trial has become, not a search for the Truth, but rather, it is all “about winning.” It is about ego and media exposure. It is about the politics that prompt the mollification of the raging beast of public opinion, which almost instantly reared its nasty head, when the details of the missing child in this case came to light.
The public outcry that resulted, when it was learned in June 2008 that the child had been missing for 31 days while her mother was partying, spending time with her boyfriend, and getting the “Bella Vita” (Beautiful Life) tattoo, was monumental. Casey was tried and convicted of murder in the mainstream and social media shortly after (probably even before) the child’s remains were discovered in December 2008. The outcry intensified into a lynch mob mentality and turned into a three-year long Witch Trial. The formal trial was only the epilogue.
The antics of the prosecutor, Jeff Ashton, throughout the trial is a case in point, but they were no better revealed than in his smirking, smiling, and even abortively laughing during the closing argument given by Baez. Witness, also, the curious take-over by Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Jan Garavaglia, after her subordinate medical examiner, Dr. Gary Utz, began examining the remains. Utz testified that this was because Dr. Garavaglia had a good relationship with the police. She later became the subject of intense controversy when she conducted what the eminent forensic pathologist, Dr. Werner Spitz, called a shoddy autopsy of the child’s remains. And, this was intensified by her finding that the child’s death represented a homicide, based not on forensic evidence but upon other reported characteristics of the case.
In a capital murder case, the court room gladiators fight it out, wielding the best weapons, legal and psychological, which they can muster. The jury looks on, not unlike the spectators in a Roman Coliseum waiting for one of the gladiators to subdue the other. The only real difference between the situation in ancient Rome and today’s court room is that the trial judge is interposed between the gladiators and the spectators who are the ultimate decision- makers as to whether the vanquished foe should die at the hands of the victor. At the conclusion of all the battling, the judge charges the jury to give a thumbs up or a thumbs down.
The decision by the jury is, of course, not a majority vote process as in the coliseum. All twelve jurors must agree. However, we hear of “compromise verdicts” in the jury room. This is akin to the gladiator assessing the nature of the crowd reaction and since it seems to be split 50-50, he lets his adversary live, but chops off his legs. As a defendant in such a trial, who has been wrongly charged, would you regard a “compromise” finding of guilt to a lesser charge a carriage, or a miscarriage, of justice?
There is something fundamentally flawed in our legal system, when decisions can be made so willy-nilly and are determined by psychological and emotional factors, not to mention the group dynamics of the jury room which can involve molding group opinion through power differentials among the jury members. Some people lead; some people follow; some people are suggestible, others may be almost hypnotic in their ability to persuade.
Furthermore, psychological research has demonstrated that most human beings make decisions based on emotion not on rational evaluation of evidence, no matter how much they might protest to the contrary. People vary in their ability to process the large amounts of evidence and information that is presented in a trial. Some are capable of thinking nonlinearly such that they see the larger picture of the case and not just the limited pictures which the prosecution and defense try to present for their consumption. Others tend to function in a more linear, analytical way and cannot see the forest for the path down which their minds, steeped in their unique, past experiences impel them to travel.
Add to this the fact that most attorneys and jury experts agree that the trial is over after jury selection. Conviction or acquittal is already written in the character of the persons selected. Thus, I ask: Is this any way to run a system of justice?
Toward a Truer Justice
The Casey Anthony trial is a clarion call to all of us. What is transpiring in Orlando, Florida, as everyone awaits a verdict, has implications that rock the very foundation of our Republic. We desperately need to rethink the archaic model of jurisprudence that we have been using. Can we really say that it is the best? Can we really even say that it is acceptable, especially given the fact that a person can be condemned to death based on circumstantial evidence, which has only been linked to the defendant in the most tenuous way, if at all? This is not to mention the fact that we have so many death row cases that have been overturned because of the presentation of new evidence. Is it not a system that is being stressed to its limits by social media like Facebook and Twitter?
Perhaps, we need a new profession, viz., individuals scientifically selected for their capacity for processing and evaluating information critically, individuals capable of using their entire brains, integrating the emotional and rational aspects of their being such that they can function with wisdom that is denied others whose minds function in a more linear, non-patterned manner. We have professional lawyers and judges. Why not professional jurors? I envision that these would be the cream of the crop and because of their breadth of thinking capacity, they would be far less likely to get caught up in the typical cliques and liaisons in the jury decision process that result in hung juries and compromise decisions. Furthermore, they could arrive at their final verdict using principles of consent, rather than coercion and compromise, whereby a dissenter is valued and not maligned as a holdout. Such principles would recognize that dissenters may stimulate better processing of information and a verdict that is likely to be closer to the truth than the original majority view. Such principles in decision-making have been amply discussed in the field of Sociocracy, information about which can be easily found by Googling this term.