If O.J. Simpson were not enough to shake your faith, how about that Phil Spector? Now that the jurors in his trial are letting it be known they're split 7/5 on how to rule in his case (no indication if it's 7 guilty or 7 not guilty), how can anyone argue that a jury system makes sense? Sure, fame is probably coloring this case's outcome and not many famous people face juries, not compared to all the non-famous. But doesn't the fact that something like the accused's notoriety could sway a jury make you wonder about what else sways a jury?
Did the Jena 6 get a jury of their peers?
On the flip side, jury nullification probably also occurs frequently when defendants who are people of color are found not guilty solely because of the color of their skin. I know it's said to be an issue in some jurisdictions, but further, I witnessed it.
I was on a jury a few years back and it was a disgusting experience. We heard a case involving a man (who was African-American) accused of violating his parole when his final apartment check revealed a sawed-off shotgun in his dresser. He'd been in jail for a weapons-related crime and despite a long period of productivity on the outside, it seemed clear that he had re-offended. A shame.
But the real shame came when we went back to deliberate. It was almost 50/50 on whether he might be guilty, and my blood boiled. The facts were irrefutable—the only extenuating circumstance that had been introduced was a phantom son-in-law who was wanted by the police and was missing (had he hidden the gun in the defendant's drawer...and had the defendant overlooked a shotgun under his folded clothes?). It was laughable, but some jurors wondered if that constituted "reasonable doubt." It was clear to me that average people—smart, too—didn't understand the difference between "beyond a reasonable doubt" and "beyond the shadow of a doubt."
More troubling, a black woman on the jury used logic that wasn't. For example, she refused to believe he would re-offend so close to his parole's end. I pointed out that people do dumb things all the time—and hadn't he done the same dumb thing before? This was a woman who admitted she worked with parolees as her day job, so she certainly had to be familiar with re-offenders. She was adamant from the first vote and would not engage in deliberations, which actually helped some of the other iffy jurors to feel more comfortable stating what they'd felt all along—that he was likely guilty as sin. It was crystal clear that her empathy with him was based on his race. She didn't say it but she didn't have to.
One other juror who refused to vote guilty was also, I would say, hung up on race, but from a different angle. An older white lady who worked for The New York Times, she was a bad stereotype of a bleeding-heart liberal. Her arguments were ridiculous—she would ask how deep the dresser drawer was, how many pieces of underwear were found on top of the gun...she, too, was adamant. She would debate, though, which brought us back for four days. It was the easiest, most open-and-shut case, and we were debating for days?
Finally, I wrote a note to the judge even though I was not the foreperson. I said in my note that there were two members of the jury who did not understand "reasonable doubt" and who refused to deliberate and I suggested we were deadlocked whether or not the other jurors would admit it. We were called back in and read more rules and sent back for more. No dice. Finally, the jury was declared hung.
As we were preparing to leave, the prosecuting and defending attorneys came back for a post mortem. The black lady left snootily. Her smugness, the power she exuded knowing she'd derailed a case—perhaps nullified it—is something I will never forgive or forget. The lib stayed.
The attorneys admitted the case was one they expected to end quickly. The mysterious son-in-law was confirmed to be a red herring. More facts, more damning than even the ones we'd been allowed to hear, were tossed out. The case was so solid we were told there was no chance it would be abandoned because the prosecution was confident ours had been a fluke jury. It enraged me. As we all heard the new facts and became excited in feeling we had at least been right, the Times lady, somewhat crestfallen, took off. At least she hadn't been smug.
I know a jury of our peers is something we are all promised. But I wonder if there isn't a way to construct fair trials without involving people who've seen too many episodes of Law & Order, or who aren't wowed by fame, or who don't enter the jury room ready to right 200+ years of unrelated wrongs.