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Citizens and Jury Service


Have you ever feared receiving a jury summons? Do you think others should participate, but not you?

Paula Hannaford-Agor, J.D., Director of the Center for Jury Studies, with the National Center for State Courts, believes jury service helps democracy. See if you agree.


As a long-time student of the jury system, I found Paula Hannaford-Agor's comments about the importance of jury service to be excellent. I am very impressed by the research that she mentioned about how jury service can under some circumstances increase the citizen's civic participation. We don't have all that many ways to engage in important political activity with other citizens even in our own communities who are different from us in background, education, ethnicity, and attitudes. Perhaps that is why jurors I have interviewed as part of my research have often remarked on what a deeply satisfying and meaningful experience it is, despite having some initial misgivings or worries.


Interesting thread! One of the great difficulties of judging jury verdicts is the fact that, other than the jurors who participated in the deliberations, none of us can really determine why a jury agreed (or failed to agree, as in the Nichols' case) on the verdict. Were the jurors who held out for a life sentence in the Nichols trial "nullification jurors" who simply opposed the death penalty? And, if so, how is it that they were not identified and removed for cause during jury selection? Or did they genuinely believe that Brian Nichols was insane (as defined by Georgia law) and thus did not merit the death penalty?
To complicate matters, death penalty instructions are notoriously complicated in terms of which jurors must agree to which "facts" to impose a death sentence. For example, in most states (including Georgia, I believe) jurors must unanimously agree that the prosecution has established the basic criteria for imposing a death sentence beyond a reasonable doubt. But with respect to "mitigating evidence" -- that is, facts that support a more lenient sentence, such as insanity -- individual jurors have a great deal of discretion to decide whether or not that evidence outweighs the reasons for imposing a death sentence. The jurors don't have to agree even on the existence of mitiganting evidence, much less its weight. So the "problem" with the Nichols jury may not have been the result of death penalty opponents on the jury, but rather that reasonable people can disagree about how to interpret the evidence, and the default position on the law in Georgia and elsewhere is life in prison when jurors do disagree.


Georgia legislators, furious about a criminal court jury’s inability this week to agree on the death penalty for mass-murderer Brian G. Nichols, are working on bills that would do away with the need of unanimity on verdicts in the penalty phase of capital cases.

Three jurors voted against execution. Rather than listen to the argument of her pro-execution colleagues, one juror plugged her ears with her music-player headset. The judge could only sentence Nichols to what amounts to perpetual imprisonment.

Georgia Representative Barry Fleming, who has twice before attempted such legislation, says the problem with the current law is that it allows death-penalty opponents to sneak into the jury box. Lawmakers of like mind think the solution is not, to example, to prosecute them for perjury, but to deprive the defendant of the protection of a twelve-vote verdict.

The United States Supreme Court long ago concluded that death-penalty opponents, if they identify themselves during examination, can be excluded from capital case-juries for cause. The three Georgia jurors seem to have disagreed, promoting the power of jury nullification to equality with the power of the highest court in the nation.

Which begs the question: if a citizen is entitled to a trial by a jury of his peers, what are the arguments for excluding those of the citizen’s peers who conscientiously oppose execution?


Brian Nichols' defense team told the jury that Brian was insane and shouldn't be held accountable for his actions. It seems that some jurors believed the defense and wouldn't give a death sentence because of his "insanity". That's insane! Nichols killed people. Is it Georgia's jury system that is in trouble, or the entire U.S. jury system?


If the argument above is that people who can't distinguish between right and wrong—the legal definition of insanity—should be punished for crimes, that argument is, to use a term that has nothing to do with the law, crazy.


What happen with you people?

I think the point is if Man has the right to kill people. If Nichols has to be punished because we (Or a jury) thought he murder people and the Jury decided to kill him because he's a bad man. Someone can argue that the Jury has to be killed because they murder Nichols. When will mankind learn that we don't have the right to kill anybody.


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