Trial by Jury of Your Peers

In our United States of America if you are accused of a crime and taken to court, you have the Constitutional right to a trial by a jury of your peers. True, you would be tried by a jury of your peers, but what the Constitution actually says is this: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed. . .” (Amendment 6.) Note that nothing at all is said or implied about a jury of “peers.” The kind of “impartial” jury the Founding Fathers had in mind was not one randomly made up of average folks like your neighbors down the street. Rather, it was to be judiciously selected from the better-informed, if not educated, and fair-minded members of the community, an English Common Law practice harking back to the 12th century. In modern-day America, that tradition has taken a different twist. Jurors selected for criminal trials nowadays are not just our peers in the common sense of the word, but also, by design, the lesser informed and more gullible of the lot. For a recent rape trial in my town, three of the jurors selected were acquaintances of mine: a middle-aged video game aficionado, an auto-parts store clerk whom I’ve never seen without his NASCAR cap, and an assistant pre-school teacher who records and saves her favorite TV show, American Idol, for repeated viewing. The other nine, I am told, were of a similar ilk. All law-abiding, hard-working folk, your ideal peers. Whether a democratic trial by a jury of our peers is an improvement over the impartial jury favored by our elitist Founding Fathers is open to question. You judge.

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