Thoughts on the Zimmerman verdict, before it is reached

Andrew Ferguson has been posting essays on Atlantic.com regarding the jury, drawing on  ideas from his 2013 book, Why Jury Duty Matters. The latest offering has some useful insights regarding the George Zimmerman trial, which is getting wall-to-wall coverage in the media, and for good reason.

The focus comes, in part, from the drama of a jury verdict. After all, we know that the story will end (in a sense) when the jury returns with a finding of guilty or not guilty. Thus, we are reassured that there will be narrative closure, something any fan of Lost, Twin Peaks, or many another tortured tale was sad to have never received. As Ferguson writes,

One of the most amazing things about a jury trial is that in every single case, we know one side will lose. Both sides walk into court knowing at the outset that one side will definitely lose, yet they still show up and face the jury verdict. The genius of our jury system was to set up a mechanism so that both sides believe that they have a fair shot at winning the case…

In anticipation of the inevitable disappointment that will come to one side or the other in this case, Ferguson continues,

Of course, because one side will lose, some observers, pundits, and participants will be disappointed. Many may loudly denounce the jury and the jurors. But, the test of the system is how you feel now – before the verdict. If you have faith that the jury will do the “right thing” whatever that may be (guilt, innocence, or compromise) then you have faith in the legal system. It is important to keep that faith in mind as we await the next trial of the century (and the next).

As with the recent string of Supreme Court verdicts, the aim is for the institution to render reasoned and persuasive judgments that can sustain its legitimacy while seeing that justice is done. In the case of the jury, it has fared well, at least by the public’s estimation. Thus, cases like the Zimmerman trial don’t so much put the jury on trial and they let the jury do its work.

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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 Public/media views of juries, Social/political impact of juries, Verdicts juries reach. Bookmark the permalink.

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