Saturday, May 27, 2006


The trial Courts in the federal system are called United States District Courts. Here are some suggestions for change in the procedure of such Courts.

First, open up the Court to TV and radio. These Courts are way behind, and the result is they conduct their proceedings in relative secrecy. Do not say cameras and audio are disruptive; modern technology can cure that. No doubt such broadcasts affect some lawyers, Judges, jurors, witnesses, and others. But is that bad, or good? We believe that such broadcasts will educate the public so fast that the grandstanding will end. There is grandstanding, obfuscation, misleading and chicanery at present (without TV and radio). We think the situation will get better, not worse. Make the camera fuzzy on witness and jury faces if necessary.

If you were a defense lawyer and you wanted to pull the wool over the eyes of the jury, would you try it with a jury which had watched real live Court television?
More likely, you, as a lawyer, would conduct yourself as you do in a non-jury (bench) trial. Trial lawyers have at least two styles: one for the jury; another for the Judge in a bench trial. Ask your lawyer friend if that is so; and then ask why.

Second, why require unanimity for a verdict? Would not 9-3, or 10-2, or even 11-1 do better? Consider this case recently in which our former State Treasurer won a great victory against the United States government (his lawyer's assessment). The case ended in a mistrial, because of jury disagreement. It is reported that the jury was 11-1 for conviction of one or more charges. One juror reported that the jury, faced with twenty something counts, or charges, and faced with a holdout, decided to consider first three of the strongest counts. Spinsters later said that the lone holdout was not out of line, because the others wanted convictions on only two or three charges. We imagine the eleven would have been satisfied with one guilty verdict and leave the remaining charges for another jury.

Would it take a constitutional amendment to allow less than a unanimous verdict in a federal criminal case? Overrule some precedent, or amend the constitution; the times call for it. This has nothing to do with the "War on Terror," but with the "War on Crime." In these days, it is too easy to buy or intimidate one juror.