Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Blagojevich and the Jury--Tuesday Journal
Disgraced former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich scored a backhanded victory yesterday when a jury failed to agree on 23 of the 24 charges leveled against him in his corruption trial. The only count on which he was convicted, lying to the FBI in 2005, carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Before the dust had settled on the declaration of a mistrial on the other 23 counts, there were vows of re-trial and appeal. This time, of course, a retrial would involve taxpayer money rather than private sources of funding.
I say, let's focus on the one conviction, and get him out of the public eye for five years.
Here is a guy who loved fame and celebrity and appearance, and assumed he could coast on charm, while the state of Illinois continued to slide into near-bankruptcy. (If not for a constitutional guarantee that teacher pensions will be paid, many retired State employees who were mandated into the pension system would lose their main source of income.) Psychologists have characterized Blagojevich as having a Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
The jury's two-week deliberation in the case was difficult at best. According to news reports, the jury's lone dissenting voice on some of the counts, (including the charge that Blagojevich attempted to sell the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when he was elected to the Presidency) was a "retired woman" who echoed the lackluster opinion heard on some Chicago streets: "He is a sleaze, and he spoke unwisely, but did his actions really constitute a crime?"
(There was no Henry Fonda with the fateful switchblade to sway the last holdout, like in "12 Angry Men".)
On other counts, the jury was more evenly split, but not consistently across the board.
To those who have followed the impeachment, indictment, and trial as reported in various media, it appeared that the Prosecution had a solid case against Rod Blagojevich. The Defense offered a weak case, to say the least, and bragged after the verdict that they in fact offered no defense whatsoever, and the jury still could not agree on any criminal activity. I don't buy the notion that Blagojevich was simply all bluster, that he was just doing what politicians do everywhere, and that no crimes were committed.
And that leads me to wonder: what type of persons could have had so little knowledge about the events surrounding this case that they would have been deemed "objective" enough to serve on the jury?
The Sixth Amendment provides for "a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed." Interestingly, while the idea of a "jury of one's peers" has entered the American lore, it is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution.
Is this the best way to serve justice?
While I am not yet a proponent of the idea of Professional Juries, we have come to a tipping point in which technology and the incredible complexity of the world demands that we re-evaluate the manner by which we select jurors, and customize this process based on the specific requirements of the case. We must keep up with so much in our culture, it seems irrational to let the jury system remain antiquated. It does no one any good, neither defendant, public, nor juror alike, to ask anyone without the knowledge required to assess a particular case to render a judgment in it.
Jurors need to have the information and knowledge necessary to accurately hear and interpret specific cases. A balance must be achieved between complete, "objective" ignorance, on one hand, and the attainment of an educational level that allows the juror to remain open-minded, and not unduly swayed by media. A re-working of the initial survey would be in order. Maybe we should return to the idea of "a jury of one's peers" in earnest.