The “Impartial” Jury

I’ll be the first to admit that a trial by jury is a better system than trial by a tribune of government bureaucrats but that doesn’t mean that I’m foolish enough to believe that a trial by jury can’t be rigged. There are numerous ways that government officials manipulate juries into declaring a desired verdict. However, government manipulation isn’t the only fault with jury trials. Another fault with jury trials is the jurors themselves:

The more severe a crime, the more evidence you should have to prove someone did it. But a new Duke study, appearing Oct. 29 in Nature Human Behavior, has shown that the type of alleged crime can increase jurors’ confidence in guilt.

“If the crime is more serious or more heinous, [mock jurors] are more likely to be convinced by the same amount of evidence,” said lead study author John Pearson, an assistant professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics in the Duke School of Medicine.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Most people know that there are certain crimes where being accused is pretty much an automatic guilty sentence. Terrorism and sexual crimes against a child are two examples.

This bias could be a useful tool for a government prosecutor. If, for example, a prosecutor wanted to make sure a suspect went down, they could add a charge that the suspect raped a child. Even if the prosecutor had no evidence to work off of, the jury’s bias again severe crimes might be enough for him to get a guilty verdict even if he can’t get the original charges to stick.

Despite best efforts there is no such thing as a truly impartial jury.