My friend, John Connell, was alway quick to distinguish the difference between a jury and a juror. A jury being the group which had the power to acquit the person falsely accused of a crime, the juror as an individual with the power to stand upon his or her conscience could bring a mistrial.
The juror has a conscience, the jury can only have a consensus. These are very different things and our right to conscience is protected in our New Hampshire Constitution:
I often stand outside the Belknap Superior Court to hand out flyers with the above quotation from the NH Constitution printed mildly on the back. I find it unfortunate that I feel the need to deliver this information to potential jurors. In a perfect world the juror would have received this critical civics lesson as part of their education long before they were called to jury duty. In a better yet still imperfect world, one might hope that the information I distribute would be included in the court’s orientation given to the juror.
As a New Hampshire State Representative serving on the judiciary committee, I can assure you the Court is absolutely opposed to having jurors know their rights. They have built an efficient system for processing those accused; offering plea deals and shielding jurors from the complexity of statutory language. I have heard a quip, ‘due process has become do process’. The courts now ‘do process’ in order to get results, instead of giving due process in order to get justice.
On this cool September morning as I handed information out reinforcing the rights which are protected by our Constitution. I watched with bitter irony as those good citizens walked up the stairs to the courthouse to stand in line to be searched before being allowed to enter their building.
As if it were not bad enough that our justice system is bent on ‘doing process’ with uninformed jurors, they deliver one more message before you may enter into service of the government; you have no right to be free from search, you can not be trusted, you will do as you are instructed. This all seems to stand as a barrier to the person of conscience. It is little wonder that those accused will accept a plea deal as opposed to facing a jury which has made it through the processing. Peers?
Note: While the judicial system has lost sight of its primary mission, there are good people in the court. This is also highlighted in the flyers I distribute which includes a quotation from Belknap Superior Court Judge James O’Neill.