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The Essence of Our Legal System

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The Essence of Our Legal System

Spending time in the courtroom is definitely not like spending time in front of the television set watching Law and Order. In fact, the two are really nothing alike. A room full of observers and people invested in the case usually does not present itself in the actual courtroom. The attorneys are not amazing orators who know just what to say to change the entire outcome of the case. Media personnel are no where to be found. Sometimes one may even think that the courtrooms are deserted historical sights only open for special occasions. All of these things came as quite a shock to me when I spent my time in the courts. At times my experience was interesting and fun, but more often it was boring and not so much fun. Despite all of the unexpected, one aspect of the courtroom was very similar to what I see on television: the jury. The jury was the only thing I could look to for comfort in my unfamiliar and unforeseen courtroom experience. The juries in the county courts were exactly like the ones in Law and Order. They sat in the corner quietly and got up and walked out when they were dismissed. They came back and sat in their seats when the proceedings started again, and they only spoke when they were spoken to. They were very respectful to the judge, the courtroom and the entire system. The jury is that special aspect of the courtroom that makes it something safe and familiar. It is important to incorporate the jury in analyzing the legal system by looking at its role in the system and other social and psychological aspects of the jury.

The jury would really be an unusual thing if it was brought into every day American society. Think of what it actually does. It is a group of people who basically has to sit there, listen to an argument and not put any input in during the argument. Very few people in the United States today would be able to sit and listen to a dispute for hours without giving their own advice to each of the parties. It is a part of our American culture. We like to be involved, and we like others to know what we think. Being on jury duty is probably a challenge for many since it is nothing like what they have ever had to do in life. The fact that the jury is passive in legal proceedings is the basis for other problems with the jury system. The jury cannot say a word, cannot ask any questions, but they are the individuals making the decision. The people who do not have any input in the final decision are the ones who ask the questions and find information. In A Trial by Jury, D. Graham Burnett asks "How did it happenÐ'...that a practice of truth-seeking had evolved to divide the job up in all these curious ways? The asking of questions was reserved to those who would play no role in judging the answers, while we, the jury, who were supposed to figure out what had gone on, had to remain absolutely silent" (37). However, I think the problem and the discrepancy lies in the fact that the jury usually thinks that the goal of the proceedings is to find the truth, but the goal is actually to "resolve disputes on the basis of information provided by contending parties during formal proceedings" (Adversary System 1). If this primary goal was conveyed to the jury and the larger public, there might be less criticism of our current adversary system. People would understand what their real jobs were when acting as jurors. Finding the truth would certainly help in resolving disputes, but it would only be an aide, not an aim.

Thus, if the job of the jury is to resolve disputes, how do they go about such a difficult task with the resources they are givenÐ'--their ears, and sometimes a notebook and a pencil. It is hard to see how such an important and far reaching decision only allows these few things. Sometimes, even ears fail us, and those are basically all that the jury has to rely on. The jury and their responsibility relies more on instinct, personal feelings, and the persuasiveness of other juries than anything else. It is kind of hard to believe that a man could live or die based on those easily changeable elements. But, that is how the system works and the views of the jury have been more often correct than not. There are mistakes, but there will always be mistakes, and we cannot let a few failures get in the way of the many successes. And we cannot blame the inefficiency of the jury for those mistakes either.

Moreover, another question that comes up when analyzing the jury is how and why the individual members are chosen by the attorneys. This procedure took up a significant portion of my observation time. It was interesting to see what kind of questions the attorneys asked the potential jurors and how they fit into the trial once more of the details were divulged. Lawyers have to think of every single bias that could come into the final decision, so at times the questions get quite interesting and funny. "Has anyone ever heard of a syrup bottle exploding at a restaurant?" was one of the more amusing questions in my courtroom experience. When I first came in to the courts, I thought that this sort of questioning would take away and detract from choosing good members for the jury. I thought that the question procedure was an easy way for potential jurors to work their way out of their jury responsibilities. To my surprise, it did not work in such a manner. The potential jurors all seemed to be very honest and genuine when answering questions. None of them seemed to be orchestrating peculiar and unfavorable responses in order to wiggle their way out of jury service. They may not have wanted to be thereÐ'--seen by their happiness when they were not chosen for the juryÐ'--but while they were in the courtroom, the jurors were as professional and respectful as they could be. A sense of duty could be seen on their faces and in their demeanorsÐ'--duty to the defense, duty to the plaintiff, duty to the judge, and most importantly, duty to the system.

It is extremely reassuring to see that the citizens of the United States possess so much respect for their legal system and the significance of their duty as jurors. This tells me that our system works. Something has to work for most people to hold it in such hard regards. Usually when things are not functioning properly, individuals lose respect for that specific thing. An example of this can be seen in the Bush administration. The loss of respect for the Bush administration is seen in the dismal approval ratings due to things not working and going as they should. In the legal system, most complaints come from specific individual problems and disappointments with the system, but not with the system as a whole. Even during jury selection when it was evident that the potential juror may have felt as if he had been



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