Does the Chauvin trial prove that the jury system is obsolete?

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

Of all the gifts we received from English common law, nothing beats the jury system. The English received the jury trial from the Vikings and the Normans. King Henry II, one of my heroes from English history, seems to have had a lot to do with the jury consisting of 12 “free and lawful men.” Ever since, English and American juries have been tasked with listening to a dispute, evaluating the evidence presented, and deciding based on the facts in accordance with the rules of law. Considering the pros and cons, the jury system has served us well. That may be changing as a result of social justice activism.

Statements by a juror in the Chauvin case suggest that the jury system may have failed. Juror Brandon Mitchell said that the case is bigger than Chauvin as an individual. During a local Minneapolis television interview, Mitchell said that jury duty should be a means to promote societal change. “I mean it’s important if we wanna see some change, we wanna see some things going different, we gotta get into these avenues, get into these rooms to try to spark some change,” Mitchell said. “Jury duty is one of those things. Jury duty. Voting. All of those things we gotta do.”

Appearing on the Tucker Carlson TV show, former federal prosecutor Francey Hakes said it looks like Mitchell wanted to be on that jury for the wrong reasons. “He talks a lot about social change,” Hakes said, “That is not what the justice system is for. It is incredibly serious to take someone’s liberty away from them with the power of the state. Because it is so serious, we have to have impartial jurors and it certainly looks as though we didn’t here.”

During jury selection, Mitchell said he never attended a George Floyd protest. That was a lie. He now admits that he attended a march for Floyd wearing a T-shirt that said, “Get your knee off our necks.” The purpose of jurors being under oath was so Chauvin would get a fair trial. That is now open to question. “Some people on social media interpreted Mitchell’s confirmation of his attendance as a sign of activism that tainted the juror’s ability to be ‘impartial’ during Chauvin’s conviction process,” Paulina Villegas wrote in The Washington Post.

This new revelation from a juror will play into the defense strategy. Chauvin’s lawyer has requested a new trial. “The jury committed misconduct, felt threatened or intimidated, felt race-based pressure during the proceedings, and/or failed to adhere to instructions during deliberations,” argued the defense attorney, “in violation of Mr. Chauvin’s constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial.” 

Mitchell’s statements expose serious questions not only about Chauvin’s conviction but also about the viability of the jury system itself. The purpose of a jury is to determine the guilt or innocence of a single individual, not to be used as a vehicle for social change. “The system of justice is about the one man,” said Hakes, “what he is accused of doing.” It can be argued that Chauvin was sacrificed in the name of social justice. His personal guilt or innocence was subservient to the real issue at trial, namely whether America is guilty of systemic racism. The pervasive influence of social activism may be rendering the jury system obsolete.

The public was exposed to what has been described as “overwhelming pretrial publicity damning Mr. Chauvin.” The four officers involved in the George Floyd incident were immediately tried and convicted in the court of public opinion. Threats were issued that in the event of an acquittal, a new outbreak of disturbances would occur. It is highly unlikely that any jury could be objective under these conditions. 

The jury system has been criticized for other reasons as well. Some legal analysts have complained that juries are acquitting criminals despite clear proof of their guilt. An example often cited is the jury acquittal of O.J. Simpson. Race was undoubtedly a factor in that case, and it appears to have been a major influence in the Chauvin case. 

Another problem is that many intelligent people avoid jury duty, resulting in a dumbing down of the process. Deciding on the guilt or innocence of a defendant, said one law professor, “surpasses the intellectual aptitude of most laypersons who are called to jury duty.” Many nations reject the jury system, saying it is bizarre and risky for a person’s fate to be put into the hands of untrained laymen. The Chauvin trial may be a case in point.

Ed Brodow is a conservative political commentator, negotiation expert, and author of eight books including Tyranny of the Minority: How the Left is Destroying America. He is a former US Marine officer, Fortune 500 sales executive, and Hollywood movie actor.

Ed Brodow

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