Jury Summons

Jury Summons

Friday, September 19, 2014

Are Two Juries Better Than One?

When I hear Auburn mentioned, I automatically think of Auburn, Alabama. I think of the fall, college football, and school spirit, but Auburn, Maine, not Alabama, is setting groundbreaking precedent by using a two juries for one trial.

Initially, I was stunned. I did not understand how two juries could possibly be more efficient than one, which was the argument made for allowing two juries to sit in on the same trial but decide verdicts for two separate defendants. In order to prepare the courtroom for a two-jury trial furniture was rearranged both inside and outside the courtroom. In the name of efficiency, extra work was being done. Extra work is not bad and a two-jury trial might be used more often in the future, but what concerns me is why the two-jury trial has not been used more often in the past? Since two-jury trials have happened before, why have they not become more prevalent? Are most cases with two defendants not suited for this type of trial due to dissimilar facts or defense strategies? Or is there a different, more prominent underlying reason for the lack of two-jury trials in this country’s history?

After reading about this case I understand the argument for a two-jury trial, but I have doubts over its efficiency.  This case involves two defendants who are charged with the same offense. One jury will decide the guilt or innocence of one defendant and the other jury will do the same for the other defendant. In the name of efficiency, both juries will sit in the same courtroom and hear the same facts from the same witnesses, but each jury will decide the fate of their assigned defendant. When necessary, one jury will be removed from the courtroom to ensure fairness. This will occur during opening and closing statements and for the testimony of certain witnesses.

This is a controversial case where the two defendants, oil train protestors, sat on railroad tracks in downtown Auburn hoping to stop  a train carrying crude oil. These protestors believed that trains carrying crude oil are dangerous, in part due to the July 2013 crash that killed 50 people. Due to the controversial nature of this case, I understand why the attorneys would not want to call witnesses multiple times in separate trials and make them walk through protestors on the way to the courtroom in order to tell the same story multiple times.

Despite the controversial nature of the case, I am not convinced that a two-jury trial is the best and most efficient solution. I understand theoretically how it is beneficial and cost saving, but I have a hard time believing that the benefits outweigh the hassle of logistically performing a two-jury trial. I cannot help but wonder if I am stuck in my ways and not willing to see the benefits to a new, improved and adaptive form of trial? Are two-juries better than one? Or should we be asking is one trial better than two?

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