The danger and weaknesses of jury system in 12 Angry Men

English 12 Period 8
May 22, 2014

Jury system is one of the basic legal system of Anglo-American law system. It refers to a specific number of citizens who have voting rights to participate in deciding whether to prosecute suspects and made a ruling on the case. The purpose of the jury system is to separate the process of the facts and legal issues, so that the rights of professional judges can be constrained by ordinary people. Based on this fact, Twelve Angry Men are a drama written by Reginald Rose concerning the jury of a homicide trial. In this book, the defendant was an 18 years old men who were accused of killing his own father at midnight. The evidence provided in court seems very persuasive, and jurors can finished their job by voting unanimously that the boy was guilty. However, one of them felt the situation was suspicious, keep making dissent and convinced other jurors to overthrow the intent with patience and perseverance. Finally, all of the 12 jurors gave up the position, and acquitted the boy. The story have a happy ending, but it also shows out the danger and weaknesses of jury system, such as how prejudice and doubt lower people’s ability to make a reasonable judgment, showing inevitable that the jurors own personal experiences affect their opinion on the innocence of the defendant.

Prejudice to a specific group of people may strongly affect juror’s judgment, even when the evidence has obvious loophole. For example, at the beginning of Twelve Angry Men, The 3rd juror argued “You’re right. It’s the kids. The way they are—you know? They don’t listen. (Bitter) I’ve got a kid. When he was eight years old, he ran away from a fight. I saw him. I was so ashamed, I told him right out, “I’m gonna make a man out of you or I’m gonna bust you up into little pieces trying.” When he was fifteen he hit me in the face. He’s big, you know. I haven’t seen him in three years. Rotten kid! You work your heart out…. (Pause) All right, let’s get on with it.” (page 8) The 3rd juror missed the boy’s case with his own children, can make determines based on his estranged son’s behavior. He prejudiced against the accused simply because of his age and life experience, and acts just exactly like what the 4th juror said “missing the point” (page 8). It is clearly that if nobody stands out and makes reasonable doubt like what 8th juror does. The case can be ended quickly and the boy has to die at stigma. The opposite role of 3rd Juror in this play is 8th Juror, who is initially sympathetic to the accused, not because of the evidence, but because he pitied his poor and troubled upbringing. His opinion is very clear “I don’t want to change your Mind. I just want to talk for a While. Look, this boy’s been kicked around all his life. You know, living in a slum, his mother dead since he was Nine. That’s not a very good head start. He’s a tough, angry kid. You know why slum kids get that way? Because we knock ‘em on the head once a day, every day. I think maybe we owe him a few words. That’s all.” (page 5) We see that in the book after each time these jurors intense debate, there are people began to reflect on his earlier literary. This awakening of perception of each juror feel the cautious of exercise to their rights is not only responsible for this strange defendant, but also responsible for their own, because if you easily determine the fate of others today, maybe you will be in a relaxed life in someone else’s lost tomorrow. As the 8th juror examines the deepest in human nature, it helps him to abandon the secular bias, which guide him to do a rational choice by the purest values in heart.

The tyranny of the majority is another danger of the jury system that showing up in the book Twelve Angry Men. At the beginning of the book, 8th Juror is the only one who votes ‘not guilty’ and against other 11 votes of ‘guilty,’. Like what the 8th Juror said “There were eleven votes for guilty. It’s not so easy for me to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first.” (page 5), is showing out the difference between the true or false democracy, which means a really equal democracy, every or any section would be represented, not disproportionately. One part of the people rule over the rest is not a real democracy, a real democracy will give everyone a chance to express their ideas and opinion, let people make decisions based on facts and reason, not on which side they are, even if the truth are in the hands of one single person. As the 9th juror said “This gentleman chose to stand alone against us. That’s his right. It takes a great deal of courage to stand alone even if you believe in something very strongly. He left the verdict up to us. He gambled for support, and I gave it to him. I want to hear more. The vote is ten to two.” (page 13) In the book, the 8th juror relies on his own conscience and the treasure to life of others, as a single-handedly person to against the other 11 jurors, and eventually persuaded everyone to save a boy’s life. And of course, this process is strictly procedural fairness. The Jurors hold the vote at each time when someone proposes to, and they didn’t eliminate this necessary step for the disparity between the number of views on opposing sides. Although the Jurors are all from different classes, their knowledge and conservation are also very different, and some people even never participated in the work of the jury before, everyone have kept their basically rational, and thus the story going to the situation of a person to convince everyone. Their dispute is not to win or lose, but about a human life and the dignity of the law.

And also in the books, the writer pays tribute to the jury system in illustrating its ability to serve its purpose in administering justice, but not truth. As what the 8th juror said, “Nobody has to prove otherwise. The burden of proof is on the prosecution. The defendant doesn’t have to open his mouth. That’s in the Constitution. The Fifth Amendment. You’ve heard of it.” (page 6) When some members of the jury such as the 2nd juror claim that they believe the defendant is guilty because the boy didn’t prove details, the other Jurors immediately challenged this perception as the defender of democracy. All the Jurors identify this as an important feature of the judicial system, where the defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty. The characters exemplify how reasonable doubt is an important safeguards in the jury room, while it does not completely eliminate the possibility of a guilty man going free, it is portrayed as a far better alternative than an innocent man being wrongly convicted. The notion of reasonable doubt is tested several times in the play and it is clear that due to this concept that most of the jurors change their mind. Just as what 8th Juror tells the other Jurors “It’s always difficult to keep personal prejudice out of a thing like this. And wherever you run into it, prejudice always obscures the truth. I don’t really know what the truth is. I don’t suppose anybody will ever really know. Nine of us now seem to feel that the defendant is innocent, but we’re just gambling on probabilities - we may be wrong. We may be trying to let a guilty man go free, I don’t know. Nobody really can. But we have a reasonable doubt, and that’s something that’s very valuable in our system. No jury can declare a man guilty unless it’s sure.” (page 66) Accordingly, the ultimate message which the book portrays is that the jury system is the most effective way of achieving justice only when people represent it are upholding their social and civic duties.

Throughout the whole book, the writer explores the context of the use of the jury system within the American judicial system as a whole. Through use of symbolism and a wide plethora of characters from varying backgrounds, Twelve Angry Men are able to present to us the shortcomings and benefits of the jury system. Although in the book it presents to us some of the potentiality for injustice to prevail due to the jurors’ inability to carry out their role in an appropriate manner, it still much more focused on the idea that the jury system will always deliver a just result if the individuals who represent it carry out their role as they are meant to. The writer ultimately demonstrates that the ability for a reliable and fair method of justice, trial by peers or better known as trial by jury is, “the remarkable thing about democracy” (page 22)

Work Cited

Lumet, Sidney, and Reginald Rose. 1957. Twelve angry men. [Los Angeles]: Orion-Nova Twelve Angry Men.