10 December 2004

It's Not a Laboratory

An article on FindLaw today notes some proposed jury reforms. The bulk of the article concerns itself—wrongly, IMNSHO—with "juror privacy." I'm not denigrating its importance; it's merely not as important as the article makes it seem.

Actually, I've been on juries (and excluded from a number of juries) that did precisely what the article proposes as "reforms." In fact, have done so since 1968. They're called "courts-martial." A military court (the equivalent of the jury) engages in:

  • Note-taking;
  • Discussion of the matter during the course of the trial;
  • Questioning of witnesses under guidance from the judge and the advocates;
  • Working from a written "jury charge"; and
  • Maintaining their normal pay during the entire trial.

Of course, the article in question doesn't note that we've had a laboratory for this kind of change for quite a few years, and even have a statistically valid sample. Too, that sample is untainted by nearly the incidence of incompetent counsel found in the civilian system.

On the other hand, given the recent IG report on the Air Force Academy—at which I'm moderately pleased, but disappointed that it doesn't appear to have gone deeply enough into the idiocy of locking 18-year-olds in a monastery and expecting perfect behavior in the face of instructors who outright encourage some of the underlying attitudes—and the problems at Gitmo and elsewhere, I can understand why uninformed journalists might not think to look at parallels in the military system that actually work.