Re: Nonproblems with Juries

From: Technotranscendence (
Date: Sun Feb 06 2000 - 19:59:00 MST

On Sunday, February 06, 2000 1:14 PM Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:
> It means that you get a trial by people with randomly-distributed
> positions in the social power structure, as opposed to a trial by your
> local duke. Your relative intelligence and viewing habits are entirely
> irrelevant to this principle. What matters is that you're not being
> tried by an aristocracy, by the same people who pass the laws, or by any
> other power group that might have an interest in convicting you. I
> suppose the jury selection process could theoretically wind up with your
> being tried entirely by members of the state legislature or some other
> power group, but to create social stability it only has to work most of
> the time.

Since attorneys and judges are able to disqualify jurors in the US, the
selection is not truly random.

> Sure, "the public", in the genuine sense of twelve random people picked
> off the street, might count as a power group interested in imposing an
> injustice on you.

If the selection were truly random, it would be hard for a special interest
group to take over a jury. It would happen in some cases, I'm sure, but for
any particular jury the odds would be low.

One might also look into sortition as a method for selecting elected
officials. Sigmund Knag's "Let's Toss ofr It: A Surprising Curb on
Political Greed." How might this work? If, e.g., ten people are running
for a given office, one might randomly select three from that group and then
have one of those three elected by the conventional means. An almost
opposite way of doing this is possible. Allow the voters to choose X number
of people to "run" for an office, then randomly select one of those people
to get that office.

> This does constitute an undesirable flaw in the
> system, but the system does work fairly well, it was a major improvement
> over the previous system, and there is no obvious way to eliminate said
> flaw without introducing other ones.

I question this. The previous system, for us in America, was the
Anglo-Saxon judge system. The reason juries became the rule in England was
because the Normans wanted to dilute the power of the Anglo-Saxon judges.
(See Bruce L, Benson's _The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State_.)
So, the origin of the modern jury system was not an improvement per se.

However, I do not take this as an indictment of the jury system as such. I
think it's pretty good overall, though I do think jury service should not be
forced and a system of professional jurors would be much better. I also
think private courts would be better too, but then I'd be doing radical
surgery and that should be the subject for a whole thread in itself.

> After all, twelve random people
> off the street have a private interest in putting murderers in jail; how
> do you distinguish between this and the private interest involved in
> racial or religious hate? The Constitutional answer, that there has to
> be a law passed by a deliberative body *and* a willing jury, is probably
> as close as you can get without an observer-independent method of
> distinguishing between good laws and bad laws.

I question this too. The problem is the cultural milieu. If you live in
Nazi Germany in, say, 1938 a jury would probably fall in lockstep with the
legal framework there and would make extremely non-objective rulings. Of
course, I have offer not solution to that problem -- except changing the
culture, which takes us again outside the scope of the jury system.:)

Daniel Ust
    Read up on tar water's applicability to all manner of legal problems at:

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