Fixing the Engine of Justice: Diagnosis and Repair of Our Jury System, the book that provides the answer for anyone who ever asked, “Why do we get such crazy verdicts?” After identifying problems with the jury component of the American justice system, it recommends solutions for each. Often humorous and irreverent, it was written with the general public in mind, but offers those in the legal profession, including education, with scholarly research and analysis. Though the prime focus is on juries, the author also takes aim at judges, attorneys and other issues relevant to the health of the American jury system.
It’s the first book to identify jury system problems, in a comprehensive way. Specific solutions are offered for each problem. The reader will see the book was written with three guiding principles:
- Jury duty is just that: a duty, not a right.
- Not every potential juror is suited to sit on every case.
- A “fair trial,” as called for in our Constitution, is fair for both sides.
The book explains:
- Problems created by inadequate public representation
- Juror competency
- Juror bias and misconduct
- The importance to our justice system of jury “duty” vs. “right”
- The origins of the jury component of our justice system
- Key Supreme Court cases
The second half of the book provides solutions to each of the problems identified in the first half, plus;
- Issues with judicial power
- Lawyer conduct in trials
- Issues with expert witnesses
Background and Origins:
How important is the jury component to the health of our justice system? How important is that system to the health of our nation? If your answer to both of those questions is “very high,” we have something to talk about. If you were at a loss for words, or even angry over verdicts in cases like O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony, we’re on the same page. That’s why I wrote Fixing the Engine of Justice – Diagnosis and Repair of Our Jury System.
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Like a lot of people, I was extremely disappointed in the outcome of the O.J. Simpson trial. Many of us felt the justice system let us down.
Following the disastrous performance by a deputy coroner at pre-trial hearing and at the suggestion of L.A. County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, I was hired by the L.A. County Coroner’s Office to teach the skills of expert witnessing.
Near the end of the trial, I was hired as an on-air commentator by KABC TV in Los Angeles. As I sit here now, I can’t remember what I said on that newscast following the verdict, but I remember the struggle to keep up appearances for the sake of the program. Not a good day for me.
At the time of the verdict, I had been a trial consultant for many years and had formed opinions about the major problems of the jury system. I had also had some solutions in mind. I shared what became the basic points of this book on a TV talk show soon after the O.J. case, along with fellow guest Judge Burton Katz, lead prosecutor in the Manson case and author of Justice Overruled. I’m cited in his book and he in mine, but his came out a scant two years after the trial, while researching mine took sixteen years, during which time I collected additional references from my case history, but mostly from the media.
This was a daily activity over coffee at the local cafes – lots of years, lots of coffee and many more examples of Simpson-like verdicts that stirred up the same debate over the inadequacies of our jury system. The Casey Anthony verdict, for example, came in as I was in the process of finalizing the work.
Everyone knows the O.J. and Anthony cases, but truthfully, they effected the lives of relatively few people. Many other cases few people ever heard of have had a much greater effect. Some of them make it to the Supreme Court where their effected is set in stone.
The famous and not-so-famous trials I include in the book were all chosen with one key question in mind: “What do they tell us about our jury system and our attitudes toward it?”
In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch said of the court system, “I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system – that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up.” I have to go along with that.
The reader will find this book to show a system beset with issues of;
- jury selection flaws
- lack of support
- public perceptions based on misconceptions
The book analyzes all those issues for their contributions to the delivery of justice.
The focus is on the jury system, but the role judges and attorneys play in the system is also addressed. As well, key Supreme Court decisions are treated for their role in shaping the jury component of our justice system.
If you read the book as a member of the general public, take the lessons of the book with you if you ever sit on a jury. If you read it as a lawyer or law school student, consider the lessons in your capacities as players in the legal industry to help effect the changes we need. The book is an American jury system review that makes the case that the health of the system is more important than the existence of my job or your job.