The jury has spoken, the lawyer who has lost moves to set aside the verdict. The jury looks startled. Is it possible that after all that trial and all that deliberation the judge is going to upset it again and have the long trouble gone over. The judge denies the motion or takes it under advisement. Only on rare occasions does he set the verdict aside then and there. The verdict must have been outrageous, absurd, clearly a compromise, or absolutely and shockingly against common sense. The theory of the law is that the verdict of a jury is a final judgment on the facts by the best judges of the facts. It will not lightly or for small reasons be interfered with.
The question of belief in the jury system is one of the most futile of all large questions. In the first place, jury trial is so deeply engraved in the constitutional bill of rights that one might as well ask: “Do you believe in citizenship?” “Do you believe in the United States of America?” Secondly, trial by jury is so completely involved in the present system of court trial and procedure, that they are inseparable. The evils of the whole attach to the part and the beneficent aspect of the courts pertain equally to jury trials.
Coming down to a concrete case and leaving the abstract principle to the theorist, there are certain obvious things to be said for and against jury trial. The jury represents the opinion of the common or ordinary man—the vox populi. Twelve men picked at random are probably neither all capitalists nor all laborers. They are made up of a few of both, but the majority, if not all, are the small tradesmen or the great middle class. These men are not ignorant, prejudiced, or unintelligent. They have a limited experience, but their judgment is the judgment of mediocrity and mediocrity is what is wanted. The professional man, the expert, the specialist is needed for the special degree of administration, but for the determination of the actual right and justice, what is needed is the instinct of the ordinary man,—the plain ordinary common sense.
When the criminal says: “I stand a better chance with a jury”; when the civilian says: “If I had the wrong end of the stick give me a jury,” he is appealing not to the wrong side of the jury system, but to a quality which is not always recognized.
Law is an exact, definite statement of principles, absolute and apparently immutable. When a man on the street walks up to another and wantonly insults him, the law is, that the insulted party must turn and walk away. If the matter came before a jury they would never convict him for knocking the other down at once. The jury system is the mitigation of the law.
Extracts from the Graduation Dissertation
of a Columbia
J.E. upon receiving his degree of Juridical Expert in 1947.
Historical investigation of obsolete customs is of little value beyond preserving some record of what may soon be forgotten.