Recently the case on everyone’s lips has been State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman, though everyone refers to it as the “Trayvon Martin” case. Whether you agree with the verdict or not, this case presents the perfect opportunity to discuss the greater implications of trial by jury and what is justice.
Justice is defined by Black’s Law Dictionary as, “The fair and proper administration of laws.” Jury is defined as, “A group of persons selected according to law and given the power to decide questions of fact and return a verdict in the case submitted to them.” Black’s Law Dictionary, Abridged Seventh Edition, © 2000. By its nature then a jury is empaneled to provide for the fair and proper administration of laws.
We have a long history in this country of entrusting our causes to trial by jury, be they criminal or civil. One of the grievances against King George cited in the Declaration of Independence stated, “For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits, of Trial by Jury.” Read in the context of the whole document it is clear that trial by jury is the way that people are protected from despots and over reaching government in the administration of justice.
After the American Revolution was concluded and the founding fathers began the task of developing a new constitution for our fledgling nation they enumerated in the Bill of Rights both the right to criminal jury trial (6th amendment) and civil jury trial (7th Amendment). Both of these rights are under attack every day, either by people who are outraged by a particular verdict or by large corporate entities who are trying to avoid responsibility for injuries and harms they cause.
I served as a Military Prosecutor for nearly my entire 6 years of service in the United States Army. During that time I tried a lot of cases. I won most of them and lost a few. Those I lost, I never once questioned whether justice had been done. The fact that the jury determined that the government had not made its case shows that “justice” is alive and well. “Justice” does not equate with “conviction,” a point lost on many.
Whether you agree with the jury’s’ conclusion in the George Zimmerman case, justice was administered. 6 citizens were given all of the facts and instructed in the law. They deliberated for quite some time and asked questions of the court in the process, an indication that they took their duties seriously. The fact that they saw the evidence differently than someone else is normal but it does not make the process any less just.
Next time you or a friend is called for jury duty keep in mind a few points. First, the only thing our Constitution mandates and our government asks of its citizens, is jury duty. Second, you will be taking part in the only true democratic institution that we have. Finally, you will be taking part in a sacred trust to fairly and properly administer our laws.