Pubdate: Sat, 11 Jan 2003
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2003 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspaper
Author: Thom Marshall
Related: Fully Informed Jury Association
Friends of Justice
Bookmarks: Texas (Tulia, Texas)
Forum: Drug Policy Forum of Texas


SOME CANDID (jury room) camera comments:

"No complex jury deliberation is completely error free," one lawyer
told me.

Cameras in jury rooms would expose jury misconduct, he said. Jurors
might disobey the judge's instruction, or comment on something they
shouldn't comment upon, or consider something that should not be
considered, or commit any of numerous other faux pas.

Since a jury is a human institution and therefore cannot possibly be
perfect, he said, it is 100 percent certain that a lawyer could find
some jury misconduct basis to further complicate the judicial process
without furthering the cause of justice.

State District Judge Ted Poe sparked quite a debate -- as well as
numerous news stories and commentaries at home and abroad -- when he
agreed to allow the PBS TV show Frontline to videotape jury
deliberations in a capital murder trial.

The district attorney bristled and vowed to fight jury room cameras
with every weapon in his arsenal.

Spotlight improves character With uncharacteristic speed, the Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals agreed to consider the issue. Arguments are
scheduled for Wednesday.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Jon Lindsay has filed a bill that would prohibit
recording jury deliberations. It won't make any difference to the
current controversy, but if it passes it would outlaw cameras after
Sept. 1.

After recently mentioning here that I lean toward Poe's position, I
visited with a few lawyers. One of them, who retired after a long
career as a trial lawyer, argued that cameras would shrink the jury
pool and would inhibit free discussion in jury deliberations. This is
a criticism echoed by many.

A story in Friday's Chronicle about Lindsay's bill quoted the senator
as saying, "I've come to the conclusion that people act differently
when they're placed in front of a camera."

But another lawyer I spoke to said that acting differently could well
be an improvement.

"Meanness comes out in the darkness," he said. "When you put a
spotlight on people they become more noble, just, fair,

This lawyer I agreed with.

I disagreed with the one who doesn't want cameras because they would
expose jury misconduct. Rather than keeping such jury deliberation
flaws secret, why don't we face up to them? Maybe there are too many
errors. Maybe the whole justice system has too many errors. Maybe it
needs some updating, or modifying. Or maybe we should chuck it altogether.

"Absolutely not," this no-camera lawyer said. "It's better than
anything else."

We Need Light Shed on This

Even if that is so, is it as good as it
could be? As good as it should be? Is it as good as we can make it?

Imagine a panel of our nation's brightest minds being asked to develop
from scratch the best possible means of dispensing justice -- and they
could include video cameras or computers or anything else from the
modern technology tool chest. Would they come up with anything close
to what we have now?

"Man, that's scary," said the lawyer who opposes exposing jury
mistakes. No more than 5 percent of the people who are charged with
crimes get jury trials. Some don't want them. But many others are
pressured into accepting plea bargains even though they believe juries
would find them not guilty.

I talked recently to the father of a man who has spent the past two
Christmases in jail waiting for a trial, refusing all plea bargain

Thirteen people from Tulia are still being held unjustly in Texas
prisons, arrested and convicted on the word of a lone itinerant
undercover officer whose methods and work record raised serious
questions that state and federal authorities still have not answered.

These are some of the things that I find scary.

I'm for anything that could help shed some light on any part of our
justice system.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake