The jury system is blossoming in Argentina. An article from May’s Buenos Aires Herald gives one a sense for how juries are being used. In most respects, the system being adopted resembles that being used in the U.S. Consider, for instance, this bit about voir dire (jury selection):
Before each case, 48 potential jurors will be called and they will hold a meeting with the parties, including the judge, the prosecutor and the defence lawyers. They will be asked several questions to try to determine whether they are impartial or if they are directly or indirectly linked to the case. Then only twelve will be selected to sit on the jury. Members of the government and of security forces or those who work for prisons are forbidden from taking part. Lawyers and public notaries are also exempt, as is anyone convicted of an intentional crime or anyone indicted for a criminal offence. The exemptions also apply to religious and political leaders.
Note that the article has one goof; unanimity is required for juries in capital cases. That correction comes from Andres Harfuch, who has championed the jury system in Argentina.
Most of the first-hand accounts thus far are in Spanish. Reading GoogleTranslate versions thereof get the gist across, however. One area of law where juries have arrived concerns taxes. A recent article on special jury trials from the Ministerio Publico Fiscal suggested that jurors will need (again, translated) “A simpler language, greater use of images, another form of questioning, much attention in the instructions.” The bottom line is that the jury constitutes a new and legitimate form of public authority in Argentina. In the mangled translation, that comes out as “a certainty: what is resolved represents the will of the people.” Sounds almost like haiku.
It’s not often that a newspaper runs a story that debunks common misconceptions about jury duty, so I single out a good example of such reporting that comes from the Richmond Register. The author makes jury duty sound much less intimidating than people imagine it to be, but she devotes the most attention to telling prospective jurors that they are not exempt even if they think they are.
The last detail is my favorite, and I excerpt it here:
Your boss can go to jail if he threatens and/or fires you over having to serve jury duty.
TRUE …For example, a person who works at night cannot still be required to pull a night shift even while serving on a jury during the day…Under Kentucky law, if an employer threatens employees with termination or actually fires them because they are absent for jury duty, the workers can file a civil lawsuit for lost wages against the employer…Also, if an employee is fired for serving on a jury, the employer can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $250 (up to $5,000 for corporations) and/or a jail sentence not exceeding 90 days.
Penn State University has started a program that looks at human rights cases called “The World on Trial.” The neat twist in the show is that “juries throughout the world” review the case, as presented on the show, then “reach a verdict on whether states are conforming to International treaties.”
In 2010, colleagues and I pitched a more institutionalized version of this idea by suggesting that juries could be implemented in the World Court. The article appeared in a symposium on “global democracy” in an issue of Ethics & International Affairs.
Whether on television or in actual practice, the question remains how well people of different cultures could understand and apply a single set of international laws. If they can’t, it’s either a failure of global civic education, for which there is almost no infrastructure, or a deficiency in the laws themselves, if they fail to speak to the moral sensibilities of diverse cultures.
In any case, the pilot episode of “World on Trial” is on YouTube for you to view.