An interesting case caught my eye the other day that made me think about the effectiveness of our criminal justice system. So let me bounce a question off of all of you: if someone was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison, do you think his or her entire trial should be redone if the jury were never sworn in?
Please, one at a time… The cacophony of replies is defining…
Just kidding, the only time that ever happens is when you ask it to a classroom full of sycophantic first-year law students. But people do have very divergent point of views on this matter, especially when the exact case I described just happened to a Michigan man.
Apparently the man, Timothy Becktel, was sentenced way back in 2008 for assault with intent to commit murder and was recently granted a new trial because the jury never took an oath of honesty. Essentially he’s being retried by sheer stroke of luck brought to him by the court’s mistake, or for those who love Law and Order, Becktel’s getting a second chance due to a legal technicality.
Here’s a quick courtroom refresher for those of you fortunate enough to have never been called for jury duty. All jurors are required to take the juror’s oath prior to being able to serve on a jury. By taking the oath, the juror essentially swears that they’ll uphold the law and deliver an honest verdict in line with the law and facts of the case – jury nullification not withstanding of course, but that’s a post for another time.
Those convicted of committing a crime and getting off on technicalities has always been in the legal news in some form or another. Usually in the context of evidence being obtained by police without a proper warrant or being admitted into a case in violation of state or federal rules of evidence on hearsay, and usually to the outrage of the opposing party along with the public in general. The question always revolves around whether such outcomes are right and in line with delivering justice to the parties involved. This question becomes especially pointed and heated in cases of murder and child molestation.
The answer to this question really involves delving into the public policy reasons why we are legal system is set up the way that it is, specifically what were the goals our America’s forefathers sought to achieve when they created the system.
Though it can be pretty infuriating when someone who appears to be guilty of a crime is allowed to walk free because some court clerk misspelled a name, the reason we have all these court procedures in place is to ensure justice is served. And yes it can seem pretty unjust to allow someone to get off because of a silly court mistake, but justice means not only ensuring the guilty are punished, but that the innocent are cleared and freed. The reason we have all these seemingly arbitrary rules is to weed out things like bad or false evidence, prosecutorial and police misconduct, and ethical violations in general. From this perspective, these arbitrary rules hopefully can seem less arbitrary.
It’s also good to remember that it’s also quite rare to see the type of Law and Order-esque technicality injustices happen in real life. The courts rarely allow convicts to go free as the opposing party can still do things like appeal the decision to higher courts and so forth. Not to say they still can’t happen, of course. Resentencing? Come on…
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