Picking a Death Jury For Brian Nichols
Thomas Jefferson described the right to a jury trial as "the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." So important was the jury trial to Jefferson that he said: "Were I called upon to decide whether the people had best be omitted in the Legislative or Judiciary department, I would say it is better to leave them out of the Legislative."
We elect presidents and legislators but not federal judges. Juries bring democracy to the third branch of government. In a criminal case, only the jury -- not law enforcement, not a paid representative of the government, but twelve randomly chosen members of the community -- can decide the fact of guilt. As Jefferson pointed out, juries even have the power to decide the law (or at least to decide whether it's fair or reasonable to apply the law as the judge explained it), although judges don't like to tell juries that they have that right.
As the embodiment of democracy in the courtroom, it is unconscionable that reasonable members of the community who have no reason to be unfair to the government are summarily removed from death penalty juries because they are philosophically opposed to capital punishment. How representative of the community is a group of people who represent only one side of a controversy that sharply divides the nation? [more ...]
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