The lone dissenter (vs. a national consensus)

We have written previously at this blog about minority views on juries. Past research has shown that dissenting jurors often hold their ground, particularly when more than one juror holds the minority point of view. But what about when a single juror disagrees with the others? Worse still, what if that minority view is at odds not just with 11 others but with a whole nation’s judgment?

Such was the fate of JoAnn Chiakulas. She served on the trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. The jury split different ways on all but one count (lying to the FBI), but she was the lone holdout on the charge that Blagojevich tryied to sell Barack Obama’s senate seat. To get a sense for her experience, listed to her profile in the first segment of the December 8 episode of NPR’s This American Life.

Toward the end of the segment, Chiakulas reflects on the jury system as a whole and worries whether some jurors have bowed not so much to the pressure of the other jurors but to the wishes of a nation that has made up its mind about guilt or innocence. It’s an important point–and one that should make us hesitate to rebuke dissenting jurors in cases like this.

But it’s important to remember that Chiakulas did still dissent, in spite of the pressure, as have jurors in other prominent cases (remember O.J. Simpson?). Moreover, it’s also the case that such trials are exceptional. Most jurors (and judges) serve in obscurity in municipal and county courts that handle 1000 cases for every one trial that makes the news, let alone catches the attention of a nation.


About jgastil

John Gastil is Head and Professor in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences at The Pennsylvania State University, where he specializes in political deliberation and group decision making.
This entry was posted in Deliberation on juries, Social/political impact of juries, Verdicts juries reach. Bookmark the permalink.

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