Derek Chauvin is on trial. America is NOT

Will jury trials be the next cancellation victim?

We have been dutifully informed and warned that if Derek Chauvin is not convicted of murdering George Floyd, America will be guilty of racism.

Leonard Pitts, Jr., lays out an impressive list of places where you will find the assertion that “America is on trial.” Among them are Time magazine,, the Toronto Star, CNN’s Don Lemon, the Rev. Al Sharpton, a group of black barbers in Washington, D.C, and Floyd’s sister, Philonise Floyd.

Pitts’ own riff on it is that “maybe” America is on trial but that ,”This trial cannot vindicate America.”

Here’s mine:

Unless you are in the courtroom, heard every witness, saw all the proceedings, heard the judge’s instructions and sat in on jury deliberations, you can’t judge the verdict.

Sure, you have a right to have an opinion. But if you haven’t done all those things, your opinion is not persuasive. And it’s certainly not correct or intelligent enough to declare that an entire country’s guilt or innocence can be determined by a single jury in a single murder trial of one man.

This is scary.

This is mob rule. This is trial by public opinion, popular demand. Might as well have a Gallup survey. This argues that a crowd–peaceful or not–can substitute its judgment regarding the guilt or innocence of a single person for that of a jury in a system that is designed to protect the very idea of justice. That everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

The jury system was and is meant to be a bulwark against a tyrannical government that can jail or execute opponents and enemies for political reasons. A jury of “peers” is an idea that goes back centuries and is a cornerstone of Common Law. It protects against “star chambers” that the king and loyalty used to oppress innocent victims.

Now, instead of trial by a privileged elite, we’re supposed to accept the opposite: trial by the swarming masses.

But, but, I’ll be told. The evidence against Chauvin is so clear, so condemning that people can in all honesty know that he is guilty. Only a racist jury could find him innocent.

First, we haven’t heard the other side. In fact, even before the trial started, so many already were asserting that a not-guilty verdict would be an indictment against America.

Even if we had heard the defense’s case, we still weren’t in the courtroom and jury room. We weren’t in the same position as is the jury to judge the witnesses’ credibility, his body language, facial expressions and subtle signs of truthfulness.

Unless we saw the judge and witnessed his instructions to the jury, we wouldn’t have adequate knowledge of the law upon which a guilty or innocent verdict would be based.

Not being in the jury room, we’re in no position to judge the argumentation, dedication and motivation of the jury members.

Instead, we have been flooded with prejudicial “evidence” that is not allowed in the trial. We have been buffeted by commentary, news stories and perspectives meant to “help” us make up our minds.

Unfairly and dangerously, the jury system has been jeopardized by threats of public reaction or even reaction. I admire anyone who is willing to make a judgment about anyone’s life who has the courage to stand up to the crowd.

Some people routinely warn that democracy is in danger, often for partisan reasons. In this case it’s true. Trial by throngs is a challenge to one of the most fundamental principles of a democracy.

Now is the time for President Joe Bin to step up to defend juries. He would show that he is his own man, for a change.

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Comments

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  • Three points. Your view on who can judge the outcome of a trial is very narrow. And two, an opinion itself is a judgment. And three, why the gratuitous attack on President Biden?

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    My gosh,St. Thomas, you sure are picky. Yes, you can judge all you want, but, as I said, it won't be persuasive--you're an outsider. Everyone has a right to an opinion, but that opinion won't be sound enough to condemn the jury decision and upon it base all kinds of actions, particularly if that action is to make overly broad conclusions about the state of America. To repeat: a trial is a judgment by a jury about the guilt or innocence of one person. It's based on the facts of the case--nothing more. As for the "gratuitous attack" on Biden: It's an ask. Please, Mr. President, use your bully pulpit to be a leader and tell the country--especially your supporters--to defend a democratic institution that's a vital protection of individual rights and justice.

  • Calm down, Dennis, the jury trial is not about to be taken away by media commentators, bloggers or mobs. It is securely there in the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. The biggest threat to it is the plea bargaining system, which makes a jury trial too expensive for most people accused of crimes. Only about two percent of criminal cases go to juries today.

    The biggest surprise in your column is your call on Joe Biden, on whom you heap such contempt, to defend juries. I don't think juries need his defense, but if he does so it should not be while the trial is in progress. I think major political figures should avoid all comment on the Chauvin trial until the jury has returned its verdict.

  • We shall see. I fear the "street" response if he's found not guilty. That's the danger I'm talking about, not the abolition of the jury system as you suggest.

  • In reply to Dennis Byrne:

    I guess I was misled by your words: "Unfairly and dangerously, the jury system has been jeopardized by threats of public reaction or even reaction." You weren't actually talking about the "jury system."

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