The American Bar Association (ABA) recently released a report detailing “Principles for Juries and Jury Trials” (PDF). Included in the report are some recommendations that would allow jurors broader rights to discuss and take notes during the trial. The report comes in the wake of grave political controversy about the judicial system in general, with particular rows over judicial appointment and judicial activism.
One case in particular has raised the ire of many, when earlier this year the jury sentence for convicted and confessed murderer Robert Harlan was overturned. The basis of this decision was that the jurors had consulted the Bible during their deliberations (the opinion of the Colorado Supreme Court is available here in PDF form).
Principle 15 of the ABA report is that “COURTS AND PARTIES HAVE A DUTY TO FACILITATE EFFECTIVE AND IMPARTIAL DELIBERATIONS.” But just what does it mean for a jury to be impartial and objective?
This is what Dr. Stephen Grabill, an Acton Institute research fellow, asks in the cover story for the June 2005 issue of BreakPoint WorldView. In “Juries and Judicial Activism: A Case for Natural Law,” Grabill wonders, “Is the standard of impartiality an ideal too high for judges and juries alike to deliver every day in courtrooms all over the country?” He details the rich history of the trial by jury, called by 18th century English jurist William Blackstone, “the grand bulwark of our liberties.” Grabill further examines the Colorado court decision within the context of the mandate for jurors to consult their consciences and arrive at “moral assessments.”