Based on the story "A Jury of Her Peers," when, if ever, is it permissible to withhold evidence?  Would you want jurors in a trial for a crime committed against you to behave as Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters did?

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In Susan Glaspell's story "A Jury of Her Peers," it's important to understand that Mrs. Wright, the woman suspected of killing her husband, was never going to have a trial in front of such a jury. In 1917 when the story was written, most states did not allow women to serve on juries. If the evidence the women found had been turned over, it would have allowed Mrs. Wright to be subjected to a different kind of injustice--that of being tried by a jury of all men, people who could not relate to or properly understand the abuse Mrs. Wright had experienced at Mr. Wright's hands. Therefore, the answer to the second question is that I would want a person who was on trial for crimes against me to be tried under a fully equitable legal system, not one that discriminates against him or her because of gender or race. If such an environment was assured for the trial, I would want all evidence presented and none withheld. 

Now let's look at the issue of when it is permissible to withhold evidence according to the story. The answer is, it was permissible for these two women, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale, to withhold evidence suggesting Mrs. Wright's guilt because of the following:

  • Mrs. Wright had been emotionally and physically abused for years, as evidenced by the state of the farmhouse and particularly the bird cage and the dead bird.
  • The microcosm of society had failed Mrs. Wright. Her neighbors did not bother to find out about her living conditions or her state of mind. The women who found the evidence felt personal guilt that they had not befriended Mrs. Wright after her marriage.
  • The macrocosm of society had failed Mrs. Wright. There were few or no resources for a woman who was in an abusive relationship to reach out for and receive help.
  • The legal system would fail Mrs. Wright going forward. She would be tried in front of a group of twelve men, many of whom might be treating their wives just as Mr. Wright had treated Mrs. Wright, and others of whom would be completely obtuse and condescending, as the Sheriff and Attorney are. 

In a more perfect world, the evidence could have been presented and a "jury of her peers" could have perhaps taken the above factors into consideration, resulting in a lesser sentence for Mrs. Wright. But given all the factors in play, the two women couldn't bring themselves to heap further injustice upon a woman who had endured more than her share of it already. They didn't feel the need to "play fair" in a game whose rules were unjust to begin with.

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