A Conversation on the Constitution: Jury Service
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A Conversation on the Constitution: Jury Service

August 25, 2019


– THIS VIDEO IS A PROJECT OF
THE ANNENBERG FOUNDATION TRUST AT SUNNYLANDS. – WHY IS A JURY TRIAL IMPORTANT? FIRST OF ALL,
THE JUDGES IN OUR SYSTEM IN THE AMERICAN
CONSTITUTIONAL TRADITION HAVE A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT
OF AUTHORITY, A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT
OF POWER. WE’VE SET ASIDE STATUTES
THAT THE CONGRESS HAS ENACTED. THIS IS AN AWFUL POWER. AND BY ALLOWING
THE JURY INTO THE PROCESS, WE SHARE THAT POWER. NOW, WHAT IS IT
THAT THE JURY DOES? DOES ANYBODY KNOW–
WHAT’S THE JURY DO THAT’S DIFFERENT
FROM WHAT THE JUDGE DOES? DOES ANYBODY KNOW? – THE JURY DELIBERATES
THE CHARGES, AND IT’S THEIR JOB TO DECIDE
WHETHER OR NOT THE ACCUSED IS GUILTY OF ANYTHING. – SO THEY ARE FUNCTIONING IN
CRIMINAL CASES. IS THAT RIGHT? – YES, MA’AM. – OK. – BUT WHAT DO THEY DO THAT’S
DIFFERENT THAN THE JUDGE? I THOUGHT THE JUDGE DECIDED
WHETHER PEOPLE WERE GUILTY. WHAT DO THEY DO THAT’S
DIFFERENT? AND WHAT DO WE NEED
THE JURORS FOR? HEY, AREN’T I SMARTER
THAN THE JURORS? COME ON. [LAUGHTER] – YES, JUSTICE, YOU ARE SMARTER
THAN THE JURORS. IT’S SIMPLY– – YOU DON’T HAVE TO AGREE
WITH THAT! – BUT IT’S YOUR JOB TO ORGANIZE. YOU’RE THE REFEREE,
LIKE IN A FOOTBALL GAME. YOU’RE THE UMPIRE IN, LIKE,
A BASEBALL GAME. YOU KEEP EVERYBODY IN ORDER. – WELL, NOW, WHAT DOES A JURY–
THE JURORS ACTUALLY DECIDE? ARE THEY DECIDING QUESTIONS
OF FACT OR LAW? – WELL, THE JURORS ACTUALLY
STUDY THE FACTS OF A CASE AND TO DETERMINE THE INNOCENCE
OR THE GUILTINESS OF THE ACCUSED. – SO THE JURY DECIDES
THE FACTS. – YES.
– NOT THE LAW. YOU’RE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. – IS THAT EASIER OR HARDER
THAN FINDING A LAW? – I SEE THAT AS HARDER
BECAUSE THEY ACTUALLY HAVE TO STUDY EVERY BIT OF THE FACTS
THAT WAS PRESENTED IN A CASE, EVEN A LITTLE BIT OF FACTS. AND THEN THEY STUDY THE PERSON’S
ACTIONS AS WELL. – GOOD FOR YOU.
– I AGREE. FINDING A FACT IS HARDER.
IT’S VERY DIFFICULT TO DETERMINE WHO HAD THE GUN… – WHO’S TELLING THE TRUTH. – LET’S ASSUME THAT YOU HAVE A
FRIEND OF YOURS IN YOUR SCHOOL– A VERY NICE YOUNG MAN OR A VERY
NICE YOUNG WOMAN. AND THEY’RE ACCUSED OF STEALING
A WALLET OUT OF THE LOCKER ROOM. AND THEY WERE SEEN GOING IN AND
OUT OF THE LOCKER ROOM. THEN THEY WERE SEEN WITH
A LOT OF MONEY. YOU KNOW THEY’RE INNOCENT. WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE 12 PEOPLE
THAT REALLY KNOW HOW PEOPLE DRESS, HOW THEY
BEHAVE, HOW THEY TALK, HOW THE SCHOOL SYSTEM WORKS, OR WOULD YOU LIKE SOME REMOTE
JUDGE TO DO IT? I THINK YOU MIGHT WANT
A JURY TO DO IT. – LET ME ASK JUSTICE BREYER
TO TELL US WHY HE THINKS A JURY, A RIGHT TO JURY TRIAL, WAS
IMPORTANT TO THE PEOPLE WHO WROTE OUR CONSTITUTION. – WHAT ARE THEY THINKING? THEY’RE THINKING THAT AT
THE TIME THE CONSTITUTION IS WRITTEN, SOMEBODY WHO’S
PULLED INTO COURT COULD BE ACCUSED OF A CRIME. WELL, THAT’S A FAIRLY
IMPORTANT DECISION. AND SO IS GOING TO JAIL. NOW, WE’RE GOING TO CREATE
A COUNTRY WHICH IS TOTALLY DIFFERENT FROM MOST OF
THE OTHER COUNTRIES. IN MOST OF THE OTHER
COUNTRIES, POWER ACTUALLY COMES FROM THE KING,
WHO SAYS SOMETIMES HE GOT IT FROM GOD. BUT THAT’S THE IDEA.
POWER COMES FROM THE KING. THE KING GIVES IT
TO THE OTHER ONES. AND THE OTHER ONES LORD IT OVER
EVERYONE ELSE. SO WHAT’S THE MAIN DIFFERENCE? WHERE DOES POWER COME FROM
IN THE UNITED STATES? – THE POWER COMES
FROM THE PEOPLE. – RIGHT. THE FIRST 3 WORDS:
“WE THE PEOPLE.” NOW, THE DIFFICULTY IS NOT
EVERY PERSON WALKING ALONG THE STREET KNOWS THE LAW. AND WHY SHOULD THEY?
IT’S PRETTY TECHNICAL. SO THE PEOPLE
WHO COME IN TO DECIDE WHETHER SOME FRIEND OF MINE
POSSIBLY GOES TO JAIL, IT’S NOT GOING TO BE THE JUDGE. THE JUDGE WILL DECIDE THE LAW. THAT’S A TECHNICAL MATTER, BUT
IT WILL BE ONE OF THE PEOPLE. AND WHO ARE THE PEOPLE?
EVERY CITIZEN. SO HOW DO WE FIND THESE PEOPLE
TO SERVE ON THE JURY? DRAW THEM AT RANDOM, OUT OF THE
PHONE BOOK, OR THE JURY ROLL, OR DO A SURVEY. AND DO YOU THINK I’VE SERVED
ON A JURY? YOU’RE RIGHT. HA HA. BECAUSE IN
MASSACHUSETTS, WHERE I’M FROM, EVERYBODY SERVES ON A JURY,
WHETHER YOU’RE A JUDGE, WHETHER YOU’RE A DOCTOR.
WHATEVER YOU ARE. – WHEN THE CONSTITUTION WAS
WRITTEN, THOUGH, WOMEN COULDN’T SERVE ON JURIES AND NEITHER COULD PEOPLE WHO WEREN’T WHITE MALE
PROPERTY OWNERS, COULD THEY? PRETTY LIMITED WHEN
THE CONSTITUTION WAS WRITTEN. – LISTEN, JUDGES
LOVE JURIES. WHY? – IT MAKES THEIR JOB EASIER? – THAT MAKES IT SOUND LIKE I’M
KIND OF LAZY, BUT… [LAUGHTER] YOU SAID IT MAKES IT–I THINK
THAT’S RIGHT. BUT LET ME PUT IT IN A LITTLE
BIT DIFFERENT WAY. IT MEANS THAT ONE OF THE HARDEST
PARTS OF A TRIAL IS ONE WHERE WE HAVE HELP–
HELP BY PEOPLE WHO REALLY KNOW THE COMMUNITY. JURORS KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON. AND THIS INTRODUCES
INTO THE LEGAL PROCESS, ESPECIALLY THE FEDERAL SYSTEM, WHERE JUDGES ARE
APPOINTED FOR LIFE, A DEMOCRATIC ELEMENT. IT’S A SHARING;
IT’S A PARTICIPATION. IT’S TREMENDOUSLY IMPORTANT. – I MYSELF HAVE PRESIDED OVER
MANY JURY TRIALS. AND SOMETIMES THE HARDEST ONES
ARE IN A MURDER CASE, WHERE THE EVIDENCE
IS CONFLICTING. THE DEFENDANT WILL SAY,
“NO, I DIDN’T DO THAT. I WASN’T THERE. I WAS OUT DATING
MY GIRLFRIEND THAT NIGHT.” AND THE JURY HAS TO DETERMINE
WHO’S RIGHT AND WHY. AND AS CITIZENS, I THINK WE’VE
LEARNED TO TRUST THE FINDINGS OF A JURY. BUT NOT EVERY COUNTRY FOLLOWS
THAT SYSTEM. INDEED, MOST DO NOT. – THE COURT’S A PRETTY
IMPRESSIVE PLACE. THERE’S A JUDGE THERE. YOU GO TO THE ROOM, WHERE THERE
MAY BE 300 OF YOU OR 100 OF YOU BECAUSE SOME WILL BE CALLED FOR
DIFFERENT CASES. YOU MAY ONLY HAVE TO SPEND
A DAY OR MAYBE TWO DAYS AT MOST, SOMETIMES LONGER. BUT WHEN AND IF YOU ARE CALLED,
YOU’LL SIT THERE. AND THE JUDGE WILL BASICALLY
TELL YOU ONE THING– THAT THE FREEDOM OF THIS MAN OR
WOMAN, IF IT’S A CRIMINAL CASE, DEPENDS ON YOU. NOW, THAT’S A PRETTY SERIOUS
RESPONSIBILITY. AND SO SUDDENLY YOU THINK,
“OH, MY GOODNESS. I’D BETTER PAY ATTENTION.” AND YOU ALSO THINK, “I”–THAT IS
YOU–NOT JUST ME, THE JUDGE– THAT YOU YOURSELF ARE PART OF
THE GOVERNMENT OF THIS COUNTRY. THIS IS AN IMPORTANT PART
OF ANY GOVERNMENT– TO DECIDE WHO GOES TO JAIL
AND WHO DOESN’T, WHOSE MONEY STAYS WHERE. AND SUDDENLY IT’S NOT ME,
IT’S YOU WHO WILL DECIDE. AND WHEN PEOPLE COME OUT OF
THAT ROOM, AVERAGE PEOPLE WITH A THOUSAND DIFFERENT KINDS
OF JOBS, THEY SUDDENLY THINK, “I AM PART OF THE GOVERNMENT OF
THE UNITED STATES.” – I WANT YOU TO PRETEND–AND
MAYBE IT’LL REALLY HAPPEN– YOU’RE A LAWYER
IN YOUR COMMUNITY. I WAS A LAWYER IN SACRAMENTO,
CALIFORNIA. I HAD A NUMBER
OF BUSINESS CLIENTS. MY JOB WAS TO HELP THEM. AND THEY’D SAY, “I’VE BEEN
CALLED FOR JURY DUTY.” “MY BOOKKEEPER, WHOM I REALLY
NEED, HAS BEEN CALLED FOR JURY DUTY.” “I CAN’T TAKE 6 WEEKS OFF OF
MY BUSINESS. YOU KNOW THESE JUDGES.
YOU GO AND GET ME OUT OF IT.” WHAT DO YOU SAY? – YOU WOULD SAY NO
BECAUSE IT’S YOUR CIVIC DUTY. – I THOUGHT YOU WERE
MY ATTORNEY. I THOUGHT YOU WERE HERE TO
HELP ME. WHAT DO YOU MEAN, NO? I PAY YOUR BILL. – IT’S YOUR CIVIC RESPONSIBILITY
TO GO TO A JURY. AND NO ONE PERSON, NO ONE
CITIZEN CAN GET YOU OUT OF THAT. AND YOU SHOULD REALLY BE HONORED
TO SERVE ON A JURY… – YOU SAY THERE’S CERTAIN THINGS
THAT AN ATTORNEY SHOULDN’T DO FOR HIS CLIENT OR HER CLIENT? – YES, I THINK SO IN THE
INTEREST OF THE GREATER GOOD. – I THINK YOU DO. AND I THINK YOU GIVE THE CLIENT
THE BEAUTIFUL DESCRIPTION THAT JUSTICE BREYER JUST GAVE. AND I WOULD
SAY, SUPPOSE YOU’RE ON TRIAL. SUPPOSE YOU’RE ON TRIAL. WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE PEOPLE
LIKE YOU OFF THE JURY? – IT IS OUR DUTY AS CITIZENS TO
PARTICIPATE. AND IT IS SUCH AN IMPORTANT PART
OF THE SYSTEM THAT THE FRAMERS OF OUR
CONSTITUTION INITIATED. AND EVERY STATE AS WELL AS
THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT MAKES USE OF JURY TRIALS.

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