5 Stupid Juries That Prove the Justice System Is Broken
Due to recent events, people are once again wondering if this whole "trial by jury" thing is bullshit. On one hand, one of the biggest advantages of Western democracy is the right to be judged by a jury of your peers. On the other hand, your "peers" are a bunch of people who are missing work who are generally annoyed and/or bored with the process, and who may or may not be crazy. So it's no surprise that this system goes wrong from time to time. It's just surprising how wrong it goes.
A Jury Consults a Ouija Board for a Verdict
Don't get us wrong: If Ouija boards could actually be used to consult with the dead in the afterlife, they would be useful as hell for solving murders (or at least finding corpses). But their validity as a forensic tool is actually not recognized by modern science.
Cootie catchers are still totally legit, though.
But don't tell that to a jury in the U.K., which was having some trouble deliberating on the case of Stephen Young, who was accused of murdering a couple as part of an insurance scam in the '90s. As is typical when a jury can't reach a verdict, the judge had them sequestered in a hotel room overnight to sort their shit out. But at some point that night, they got a bright idea and whipped out a Ouija board, figuring they might get some answers if they just asked the murder victims directly.
In their defense (or not), they were pretty drunk -- the jury took advantage of the "all expenses paid" component of the sequestration, and things started to go awry when somebody located the liquor cabinet. So it's true that four of the jurors were absolutely OK with summoning the dead via Ouija, but they were so liquored up that they would probably have agreed to praying over some goat entrails.
"Room service says the best they can do is some chicken livers and fish bones."
Anyway, reportedly the four jurors sat down in the dark with their hands on an upturned glass and asked the spirit world for guidance. A ghost identifying itself as Harry Fuller, one of the murder victims, guided the glass over the Ouija board and spelled out the words "vote guilty tomorrow." Nailed it!
"Y'know, now that the mescalines wearing off this seems like a terrible idea."
Of course, when the court found out that the guilty verdict was decided from the results of a 12-year-old's birthday party game, they discharged the jury and started all over again, putting Young back on trial with explicit instructions that poltergeists are only to be consulted if they've been sworn in as witnesses.
A Juror Seduces the Accused
Obviously the biggest part of jury selection is filtering out bias -- if a celebrity is on trial, they're not going to put the president of his fan club on the jury. So being a good juror means both remaining impartial and not giving any outward appearance of bias. Such as, say, fucking the defendant during the trial.
"What's the stance on 'handies' in the restroom?"
In 1995, the notorious Canadian gangster (yes, there are Canadian gangsters) Peter Gill was arrested and in court facing some very serious charges for gangland murders and drug running. After the case began, one of the jurors, Gillian Guess, evidently thought that murder and drug running were totally hot, because she immediately hooked up with him in a hotel room.
Now, Guess did state later that she thought Gill was one of the lawyers, so she was probably confused about why everyone else in the room seemed mad at him. But even after discovering that the man she was bumping uglies with was actually the murderous defendant, she continued locking eyes with him by day across crime scene photos and impassioned witness testimonies, and shacking up with him by night.
The story would go on to inspire three Lifetime movies and two Skinemax ones.
She didn't even try to hide the affair, either, telling her sister, her best friend, even her teenage daughter that she was intoxicated by this married boy toy/crime lord 10 years her junior. Unsurprisingly, Guess voted to acquit him, and after getting the rest of the jury on board, Gill walked free.
After the authorities discovered the affair, Guess became the first person accused of sexing a defendant while sitting on his jury, a crime so idiotic that they didn't even have a name for it yet. Her defense was that she just didn't think that it would affect her decision. Unfortunately, she couldn't find anyone on her own jury to bone, so they sent her to prison for 18 months.
Thus ruining her chances of becoming Gill Gill.
But if you think that's the most inappropriate sex act in the history of the legal system, we have a pretty close contender ...
A Juror Gets Aroused by the Victim's Testimony
There can't be many more awful jobs in the legal system than juror on a case about sexual abuse of underage victims. You have to sit there and listen to every little graphic detail, unable to block it out because, you know, it could all turn out to be relevant to the verdict. So it was no surprise when, in a New Zealand case, a juror told the judge that he'd been bothered by the details, which prompted the judge to at one point send the jury home early.
"Why are you sitting there? We said you can leave."
"Uh, yeah, I'm going to need a minute ..."
But that juror later confided to his peers that, in fact, the problem was that he'd been turned on by the victims' testimony. Wait, there's more! Because while it's already hard to see how the man thought that admitting to his problem was in any way going to turn out well, he didn't stop there. He turned the jury room into a serious "too much information" session when he described how he'd been wearing a condom to court in an attempt to cope with it. So ... when he said "turned on," he was kind of understating it.
"There's a reason I needed three bathroom breaks and a handful of quarters."
Another juror, likely feeling more than a little freaked out about what had been happening under the desk while they tried to focus on legal matters, took the issue to the judge, who decided that getting horny over the details of a crime is probably a conflict of interest and threw the case out on the basis of history's most inappropriate boner.
Turning the Jury Deliberation into a Bible Study
There is a reason why, in any court case, you're not allowed to do your own research, even if it's as innocent as looking up legal terms on Wikipedia during the trial (yes, that happened). It kind of defeats the purpose -- you're supposed to work only with what the witnesses and attorneys give you. And regardless of your background or opinions, you're making a judgment purely on the letter of the law.
So hopefully you can see why it was a problem when, in 1994, a Colorado jury trying to decide if convicted murderer Robert Harlan should get the death penalty turned to the Bible for an answer.
"It clearly states here: "If a Harlan of Colorado engages in sin, his life shall be forfeit after a payment of two unwed daughters and three herds of lamb." Boom."
During their deliberations, the jury members began taking the Good Book into court with them and reading out some relevant passages from Leviticus, even passing around printed excerpts, in an attempt to figure out what the Old Testament Jews would do in this situation. Unfortunately, the court has strict rules about using outside materials in jury deliberations -- whether it's an episode of CSI or the Word of God, it's simply not allowed.
"You're telling me I brought all these Night Court DVDs for nothing?"
Harlan's defense lawyers caught wind of the jury's divine inspiration and were successfully able to overturn their verdict to put him to death. Of course, he still has life in prison to look forward to, but that's a hell of a lot better than the Book of Leviticus would have given him (hint: It demands the death penalty for everything from adultery to cursing).
Holding a Sudoku Tournament During the Trial
Since most people get their jury trial knowledge from Law & Order or A Few Good Men, one thing they don't realize is that trials are boring. Mind-numbingly boring. Most trials go for about six hours a day and can go on for weeks. So you're basically taking a 24-unit class called "Other People's Problems," and there's no Wi-Fi.
"And with the in-depth analysis of these 35 dryer lint samples, we will prove to you ..."
In Australia, a criminal trial in which two men were facing life sentences ballooned out to three months, hundreds of witnesses, and millions of dollars, and it was hardly an edge-of-your-seat John Grisham thriller. So the jury decided to take up a hobby. Just a week away from closing arguments, the judge was horrified to learn that five of the jurors had been playing sudoku the entire time.
"Except for Fridays; no one's solving that shit."
Ironically, the judge had previously complimented the jury for being so attentive and taking copious notes. But suspicions arose when somebody noticed that, oddly, they seemed to be taking notes vertically. After the real story broke, the jury foreperson admitted that their misconduct had started simply because the trial was too boring, and that they weren't just turning to the game idly now and then, but that they'd formed a tournament out of it and tallied results during their lunch break.
There's no law against it, so the jurors were just thanked and sent home, and a new batch was brought in to start the expensive, months-long ordeal all over again from the top. But the issue did inspire a new set of guidelines explaining that it is unacceptable for a jury to treat a trial like an interstate bus ride.
"Shit, does that mean no 'handies' in the restroom?"
Yosomono writes for Gaijinass.com, whose members unfortunately know all about the Japanese prison system.
For more reasons the law is failing us, check out 7 Ridiculous Cases Where Animals Were Put On Trial. Or learn about The 5 Most Popular Safety Laws (That Don't Work).
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Further Reading: Bad decisions by juries don't just happen occasionally, they're shockingly well documented. Even the best case fictional juridom has to offer, 12 Angry Men, would've been wildly illegal in real life. Juries aren't allowed to investigate. On the plus side? You can use awful juries to your advantage. Just apologize and talk real fast and you'll be halfway to victory.