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Twelve Angry Men

by Reginald Rose
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How is justice shown in Twelve Angry Men

In Twelve Angry Men, justice is shown when the jury concludes the defendant's innocence, having discussed the evidence and shared their views. Initially, most of the jurors are willing to vote quickly and, having done their civic duty, leave. Juror Eight refuses to take their shared responsibility this lightly. In discussing the case, many of the jurors’ prejudices are uncovered. They eventually are able to overcome their biases and jointly conclude an innocent verdict is warranted.

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In the play Twelve Angry Men, it is arguable to say that justice is served in the end, despite of the opinions, perspectives, points of view, and schema of the twelve men who were responsible for the outcome of the trial.

The fact that justice was served is nothing short of a miracle, but it also denotes the power of incisive questioning, focus, and the indomitable character of Juror 8.

It is noteworthy to point out that justice is not a term to be used loosely in this play. Essentially, justice is no longer a treatment that will determine the outcome of a case.

In this particular case, justice is FATE; it will determine the kid's life and what it will become. This is why it is imperative that the jury is not only fair, but empathetic, humanistic, and responsible. Is this the case in the play? Sadly, not at first.

Since this is what is known as a "Murder One" case, or a capital murder case, it is, as it is said at the beginning of the play: "the most serious case tried in our criminal courts."

This said, notice the heavy burden that the jury of such a case must carry, and what a formidable task it is to carry out proper justice when the stakes are so high. This is all done in the name of the Constitution and the Sixth Amendment.

Yet, all of this also also entails a more delicate premise: that the 12 jurors must be in the same mindset of wanting justice carried out.

...it is now your duty to sit down to try and separate the facts from the fancy. One man is dead. The life of another is at stake. [...] the verdict must be unanimous. I urge you to deliberate honestly and thoughtfully. You are faced with a grave responsibility. Thank you, gentlemen.

As you can see, justice is quite a powerful concept, and an outcome that carries a myriad of consequences and responsibilities. Do we see this mindset of justice carried out from the start? Absolutely not.

As a matter of fact, here are the most dangerous aspects of justice in this case:

  • Most of the jurors were already biased against the accused.
  • The jurors were not unanimously motivated to fulfill their duties as assigned (i.e: honestly and thoughtfully).
  • Some jurors did not even want to be there.
  • Other jurors were guided by personal bias or motivation
  • It took a lot of work from Juror 8 to even get the men to consider performing the tasks that they were supposed to be performing as a matter of course, and as established by the law.

Therefore, we can say that justice and the due process of the accused were interpreted completely different by each of the jurors, and none of their interpretations of it (except Juror 8) were formulated in the best interests of the law, the constitution and much less, the accused, who is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.

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Justice is shown in Twelve Angry Men when the jury ultimately concludes that the defendant is innocent of the crime or at least that the prosecution has not proved its case. The journey to justice and overcoming prejudice is what the play is about, as the action takes place entirely within the room in which the jury is impaneled and discusses the evidence that has been presented during the court case and shares their views about the evidence in the case and the defendant’s guilt or innocence.

As the play opens, we see that many of the jurors are willing to vote on the defendant’s innocence or guilt quickly without much deliberation. Having voted, many, if not most of them, feel that they have done their civic duty and can therefore leave and resume their lives. However, Juror Eight refuses to take their responsibility as jurors this lightly. A young man’s life hangs in the balance, and he, the defendant, deserves a full discussion of everything they know about his alleged crime to give him justice.

In the course of discussing his case, many of the jurors’ prejudices, biases specifically toward the defendant and even competing pressure from the outside world are uncovered. Yet, by the end of the play, each of the jurors has spent the time to search his understanding of the evidence and together conclude the defendant does not warrant a conviction.

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The emphasis in Twelve Angry Men is on rationality and reason as a medium for justice. Again and again, many jurors in the case show how they are not rationally focused on the matter at hand, namely deciding the guilt or innocence of a man accused of murder.

When analyzing how justice is achieved in the narrative while writing your assignment, it helps to show how irrationality almost derails justice. For example, jurors often bring their own biases or motivations into the trial, such as one juror who clearly has no interest in being there at all. He chooses whichever side he thinks is going to win instead of delivering an honest opinion about the outcome of the case.

Other jurors are angry about their own problems, such as having a son that they think doesn’t respect them enough, and they project that onto the case, accusing the young man on trial of a similar imagined temperament.

More than once, a vote is almost brought against the young man which would’ve resulted in his death from capital punishment because of these biases. The narrative shows justice as something that’s only achieved when rational actors force those around them to confront their bad beliefs or actions in the light of reason.

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Justice is shown in Twelve Angry Men to be a vulnerable thing indeed. It's only achieved in this particular case after a lengthy deliberation, and even then after one juror—juror 8—uses his charisma and powers of persuasion to convince the others of the defendant's innocence. The abiding message here is that justice cannot be taken for granted; if we want justice in society and in our legal system, we have to be prepared to stand up and fight for it, just like juror 8.

The downside of this concept of justice is that it's demanding; it challenges us to confront our deepest prejudices to get at the truth of the matter. Indeed, it's so demanding—albeit necessarily so—that many ordinary people called up for jury service feel unable to live up to its elevated standards.

We might well express horrified astonishment at the cavalier attitude of juror 7—who wants to knock off early so he can catch a baseball game—or outright contempt at the blatant bigotry of juror 3, but these are far from isolated examples of how some jury members, even in capital murder trials, actually behave. Twelve Angry Men tells us, in its quiet, yet insistent way, that justice in criminal cases is only as good as the individuals who make up the jury. And that's something that should concern us all.

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In Twelve Angry Men, justice is shown at the end of the story.  The duty of a Jury (the title characters) is to determine whether there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed a wrongful act.  In the case ofTwelve Angry Men, a young man is accused of murder.  The case as presented was quite solid; the defendant had recently bought a switchblade, the switchblade seller said it was "one-of-a-kind," an eyewitness saw the defendant stab the victim overhand, another witness saw the defendant flee the scene, the defendant does not have an alibi.  

However, the jury finds some problems: one of the jurors owns a switch-blade identical to the murder weapon, the eye-witness who saw the crime was too far away to reliably identify the culprit, the other witness had credibility issues, and overhand stabbing is an extremely awkward and unorthodox method for a switchblade. 

Ultimately the jury finds that there is reasonable doubt about the defendant committing this murder, and returns the only proper verdict in this case: 'Not Guilty.'  Justice has been done.  

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