What are the pros and cons of "professional jurors?"
People have been considering the pros and cons of professional juries going at least as far back as Classical Athens when Aristophanes staged his satirical play "The Wasps" on precisely this topic. Let's look at some of the pros and cons of having professional juries in today's legal system.
An obvious pro is that a professional juror would have a better understanding of legal nuances than the average citizen. They would be more likely to reach a decision based on legal requirements. It is not unheard of for a jury to reach a verdict based on emotional decisions or a lack of legal understanding. A professional jury would likely eliminate this problem.
Another pro to consider is the unwillingness of many citizens to serve on a jury. It is sometimes difficult to fill a jury bench with willing citizens, since being part of a jury is a significant disruption to one's life. Particularly when it comes to lengthy trials, many reluctant jurors will not actively participate in deliberations, or they will be less engaged during the proceedings. A professional juror will likely be more engaged in the process, as this would actually be his or her job.
A juror is supposed to weigh only the facts of the case in which they are taking part. A professional juror would participate in many trials and, as a result, have many examples of which to compare their cases. While they may not do so consciously, it is plausible that the circumstances of a different trial could influence their verdict on unrelated proceedings. This is partly why normal jurors are excused from serving on a jury for several years after they participate in a trial.
A jury is supposed to consist of one's peers. A professional jury would not be part of the same random selection process as a normal jury. It would likely consist of people with a similar educational and socio-economic background. As a result, it would likely be less diverse in its composition and opinions.
A non-professional jury would be more likely to practice jury nullification than a professional one. This is a powerful, although seldom, used tool to keep a government's power in check. A professional jury, being part of the government, would probably be less likely to implement jury nullification.
- It can be complicated business being a juror, especially when you're dealing with cases involving fraud and tax evasion. The sheer volume of detail in such cases can be overwhelming for those without the relevant professional training. This makes it harder to arrive at an informed opinion.
- In some cases, juries are literally deciding matters of life and death. In states which have the death penalty, their verdicts can determine whether a criminal defendant is executed. It could be argued that these life or death decisions should only be made by those with the appropriate knowledge and expertise. After all, we'd expect a surgeon to have the necessary training and qualifications before carrying out an operation that could mean the difference between life and death. So why should it not be the same with jurors?
- Juries are there to determine questions of fact, not law. You have to have knowledge of the law to be a judge or an attorney, but anyone can determine the relevant facts of a case. No expertise is required here.
- One of the most fundamental principles of the jury system is that it represents trial by one's peers. The people who make up a jury are just ordinary citizens, carrying out their civic duty. Getting members of the public to serve as jurors brings the criminal justice system nearer to the people, makes it more reflective of society as a whole. If we start having professional jurors, this will drive a wedge between society and the criminal justice system, making the latter less responsive to the former's needs. Serving on a jury will no longer be a matter of civic duty, but just another job, carried out by a self-conscious elite, separate and distinct from their fellow citizens.
The major upside to having professional jurors is that they would be more likely to deliver good verdicts. In our current system, people are asked to understand the law (particularly in civil cases) without any training. They are given brief instructions by judges and then expected to apply complex laws. Lawyers have to have whole classes on various areas of law. We should not expect jurors to understand those laws on the basis of one short lecture from a judge. Therefore, having professional jurors would give us better verdicts more clearly based on the law.
The negative aspect of this is the loss of citizen participation. Jury trials exist so that common people can have an impact on the legal system. The Founders did not want Americans to be tried and judged by legal elites who might lose touch with the common people. They were afraid that this could lead to tyranny. We may not be in danger of tyranny, but we would lose an important aspect of our citizenship and our rights if regular people no longer served on juries.