Jury Summons

Jury Summons

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

US Jury System: the Ideal Model of Justice or the Price is too Steep for Developing Countries?

Can we put a price on justice? In an ideal world, the answer is an affirmative “NO.” For the idealists, justice, alongside with democracy, freedom, liberty, etc., are priceless. However, the world we are living in is far less than ideal—not everyone can pay extra money for all possible safety features of a car, not everyone can go to Harvard at their will for education, not everyone can afford a good doctor when sick, and not everyone can hire a good attorney or pay bail bond when they are in trouble.  The reality is that there is a “price tag” for everything, because we only have limited resources in our society.

So how much is the price for running a jury system such as the one currently in effect in the U.S.? This is an important question to consider especially for those developing countries who were criticized for not having any form of jury system at all.  In the United States, jury trial is guaranteed by Article Three, the Sixth, and Seventh amendment of the Constitution. The existence of a jury system was rarely challenged. Even the effectiveness, efficiency, and economics associated with the jury system were far less debated in the U.S, than in the rest of the world, especially in developing countries. However, these are important questions for countries in which jury trials are not guaranteed by their constitution to ponder on before deciding whether to establishing a jury system.

So how much the cost is to institute a jury system. There are many kinds of costs associated with jury trials. The direct costs include payments to the jurors and the full-time and part-time staff who manage and coordinate the jurors through the voir dire and trial, and postages and office supplies for juries, etc. These seemingly pitiful costs are actually not a smaller figure in aggregation. For example, the Greene County of Missouri has budgeted to spend about $130,000 on jury trials in 2014, including $60,000 for paying jurors, $49,550 to pay for one full-time and one part-time staff person, $7,000 for postage on jury notices, and $2,500 for office supplies for juries. And this budget does not even include costs such as sequestering a jury or moving a trial elsewhere. Moreover, the indirect cost to the society could be much greater than direct cost. The attorney’s time spent on jury selection, transportation, efficiency of a trial by judge over trial by jury, and lost of production by jurors are just some of the intangibles among all the potential burdens that are difficult to put a price on.

To decide whether to adopt a jury system, maybe a more important question to ask is whether more justice is served in return for the hefty price paid? In market economy, the amount of money spent is usually proportional to the quality in return.  But does the extra cost to institute a jury system improves justice?  At least there has not been any concrete evidence to support the view. Or maybe it is simply something that’s impossible to measure. What makes it worse for the jury system advocates to make their case may be the outcomes of some famous trials (which has much greater striking effects than mere statistics). The taxpayer spent at least $700,000 on the Casey Anthony trial and a whopping $4.99 million on the O.J. Simpson trial, on top of other intangible costs. For the skeptics, especially people living in countries with very different notions of a justice system, it could be extremely difficult for them to get around these numbers, especially after looking at the outcomes of these notorious cases.         

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