8/29/2007

Humans are terrible jurists

I am on jury duty this week, this reminds me of an article I read on TIME last month. It is a truly depressing analysis of the US justice system. According to this article:

"Brandon L. Garrett, a law professor at the University of Virginia, has, for the first time, systematically examined the 200 cases, in which innocent people served an average of 12 years in prison. In each case, of course, the evidence used to convict them was at least flawed and often false --yet juries, trial judges and appellate courts failed to notice. The leading cause of the wrongful convictions was erroneous identification by eyewitnesses, which occurred 79% of the time. In a quarter of the cases, such testimony was the only direct evidence against the defendant.

Faulty forensic evidence was next, present in 55% of the cases. In some of those cases, courts put undue weight on evidence with limited value, as when a defendant's blood type matched evidence from the crime scene. In others, prosecution experts exaggerated, made honest mistakes or committed outright fraud."

My takeaway is that humans are terrible jurists. Given our imperfect mind, it's crucial that we take steps to prevent, or at least discourage, some of these mental mistakes from affecting the outcome of trials.

2 comments:

John said...

I have served as a juror a few times. Once was a child molestation case. It was extremely difficult to hand over the not-guilty verdict because as a jury we felt that the kids had indeed been molested. We believed that it was a case of the prosecutor trying the easiest suspect rather than the right suspect.

I think that it happens often that prosecutors and detectives make the evidence fit the suspect rather than speak for itself.

A side note: I have never understood people wanting to get out of jury duty. I found it to be fascinating.

Mike said...

Eye witness testimony is the least reliable there is.

I was on a jury once and there was a big rush to make a decision because someone had to get home and let their dog out and no one wanted to come back the next day.