Society

Time to Abolish Juries?

A recent season of Undisclosed details the arrest and conviction of Fred Freeman for the murder of a community college student in 1986. Freeman was living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at the time, and the murder occurred in Port Huron, a 6.5 hour drive away.

Witnesses claim to have seen Freeman in the Upper Peninsula the night before the 9AM murder and at noon on the day of the murder as well as throughout the afternoon and evening of the day of the murder.

The night before the murder he was seen a 6.5 hour drive away. And then, he was seen 3 hours after the murder and throughout the rest of the day.

Meanwhile, none of the three prosecution witnesses initially identified Freeman and only identified him after shenanigans (hypnosis and really bad lineups/lineup cards).

The murderer was driving a very different car than the ones Freeman owned.

And yet, a jury convicted him of murder and he is still in jail. At least one juror is on record admitting there was no evidence.

This is only the most ridiculous wrongful conviction case I’ve come across since I’ve become obsessed with listening to wrongful conviction podcasts and watching similar documentaries.

There are many problems with the criminal justice system in the United States, many of which also exist in Canada, where I live. Problems include police and prosecutors acting in bad faith due to bad institutional incentives or what have you.

But one commonality in virtually everyone of these wrongful convictions I’ve encountered is juries convicting on flimsy evidence.

Yes, the police sometimes try to frame people.

Yes, the prosecutor regularly refuses to give exculpatory evidence to the defense.

Yes, perhaps the most frequent problem is “ineffective assistance of council”, where an overburdened or lazy (or high!) defense attorney does not do their due diligence.

But, in many cases, it doesn’t seem to matter, as the jury is going to convict anyway.

It’s as if the fact that the person has been charged is enough to prejudice the jury towards guilt. And then the prosecutor just needs a compelling enough narrative to confirm the jury’s bias.

I say “compelling enough” because, in most cases, the narrative is not compelling. Rather, it’s usually the opposite, it usually makes no sense on its face.

But the jury is a captive audience.

The only thing that qualifies jurors to be jurors is that they are on the rolls and they are not struck during the selection process.

In many states jurors cannot take notes. Can you imagine sitting through a 6-8 hour class each day for days on end without taking notes?

Jurors cannot ask questions. Can you imagine sitting through a 6-8 hour class each day for days on end without asking questions when you are confused?

Juries receive no training. Can you imagine sitting through a 6-8 hour class each day for days on end of a subject you didn’t sign up for?

Juries might have made sense when the jury pool was partly made up of the idle rich. But the slew of wrongful convictions on the flimsiest of evidence seems like pretty good evidence to me that a system set up in another century is not working now.

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