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Polaris: I do believe fair trial matters, to the extent that trial in our system can be fair (but that might be another discussion entirely). Fairness also seems to be aspirational, but that aspiration is critically important. I have a lot to learn about fair trial. I appreciate the democratic and equalizing intention of the American jury, but I worry that we do circumvent those aims through tension points such as the jury selection process, juror bias, unequal access to sufficient representation. I am also skeptical of the jury to an extent because it wields tremendous power. I hope to have that skepticism challenged. It is valuable to bring diverse, “peer” perspectives into the legal decision-making process, but reliance on juries can also be risky, depending on each case. I hope to learn more about how fair trials have evolved to account for (or in disregard of) these ideas while simultaneously gaining a greater understanding of the trial process, fairness ideals in the trial setting, and juries.
Mandalore: I believe that fair trials certainly matter, though I am not convinced that they are possible. In my opinion, our society should continue to strive for making trials more fair as we progress while recognizing that trials in their current format are not fair in a number of important facets. I hope to learn about the ways that trials are not fair as well as the ways that we as attorneys can strive to mitigate this unfairness in the justice system.
Mahasim: Fair trials certainly matter for many of the reasons reflected above, and they are an aspirational goal toward which we should continue to strive. I hope to learn how recent events like the "War on Terror", surveillance and invasive technologies, and COVID and the rise of videoconference hearings have impacted the "fairness" of trials. I also hope we can have discussions featuring voices of the populations most impacted by biases in the justice system and the recent developments I referenced. Looking forward to this semester!
Ross 248: “Fair trial" fits in nicely with America’s rhetoric on freedom and protecting citizens from tyranny, and I think it’s an aspirational – if unattainable – standard. I want to explore how we've failed/are currently failing to make our trials fair, but then focus on how we can improve. Can we make significant reforms without modifying the text of the sixth amendment? Or is a re-write necessary to meet the needs of modern America? Furthermore, is the sixth amendment really the problem or are we better off focusing on who runs the courts and how? Finally, how can we continue pushing towards a fair trial reality in future roles as prosecutors, defense attorneys, activists, judges, politicians, etc.?
DQar: Steps like Right to Counsel (and in some cases, the fight for a Civil Gideon) demonstrate a larger push to create a more equitable legal processes, where individuals can access the courtroom without being disenfranchised from it on account of, for instance, socioeconomic status. At the forefront of these issues is the recognition that the justice system in and of itself thrives on hierarchy of power. As much as I would like to believe that a fair trial exists and could exist, it is hard to imagine such a reality when the system itself already is built to function as unfair. While those in the echelons of society claim that this country is founded on “American values” that include democracy, the same elite neglect to compartmentalize the Constitution as a document that upheld chattel slavery in the form of property, that allowed the 13th Amendment to extend into prison labor and the prison industrial complex, and that free market forces of capitalism allow and sustain the immense wealth gap. So long as these embedded systems operate, it is difficult to imagine a jury trial where voir dire allows curation of hearts and minds to involve individuals inherently against a certain narrative. The jury may harbor bias, and bias becomes weaponized to uphold, for instance, ideas of carceral politics and retributivism to sanction punishment through incarceration. But fair trial as a concept and practice matters, and it depends on larger movements set on uprooting the current norms that equate fair trial as simply the bedrock requisites of due process. As someone who knows very little on the jury process and the jury itself, as well as the process of a trial, I simultaneously remain inspired by ideas like “jury nullification,” where the jury becomes empowered to dismantle the letter of the law as it stands in order to advocate for solutions not rooted in the carceral state, nor rooted in racial biases. I am eager to explore what a “fair trial” could look like, and how creative understandings of a future where this is possible could encompass present-day movements rooted in abolition and economic justice.
Hyperion: At the moment, most of my questions on the process of a fair trial revolve around the theoretical (and practical) fairness of a jury. By what methods do 12 “randomly” selected citizens actually come to agreement? How can twelve people come to agreement so OFTEN on matters that from the outside appear so uncertain? By what methods are juries most susceptible to manipulation, either from lawyers at trial or in the voir dire? And can we ultimately trust our societal peers to put aside their prejudices and judge fairly, or is this a hurdle that even increased diversity and other reform can never overcome? I am deeply skeptical of the fairness of juries and even of the ability to make them “fair” through reform, and yet creating a process for fair trial is critical because of the serious implications that trials have on restricting life and liberty. My fear is that I conclude this course with an opinion on juries similar to Churchill’s opinion on democracy: “It has been said that [the jury] is the worst form of [trial]… except for all others that have been tried.”
Scala: My present questions revolve primarily around what we mean by a fair trial. While I think that the majority of us would agree that fair trial is a critical aspiration to work towards, I am curious to learn about what a truly fair trial system would look like. As I think about the current jury system in place, I have difficulty envisioning how sufficient reforms could be implemented under the current system to produce fair trial. Thus, this semester I hope to learn both about how we are currently failing in producing fair trial and about the solutions that would move us closer to reaching the aspiration of fair trial.
Sirius A: I would like to explore to what extent a fair trial can be achieved. What are the elements that factor into a trial's fairness and how can unfairness be eliminated? A fair trial does matter. Otherwise, the exercise of a trial would serve no purpose.
Centaurus A: I’m not (yet) comfortable answering the questions since I do not truly know what makes a trial “fair.” Going into the class, I have several questions: How important is it to acknowledge that we all fall victim to certain biases? Consequently, is there any such thing as a “impartial jury?” Are unanimous verdicts truly unanimous? If not, what does this mean for the justice system? Does the decision to abolish split jury verdicts undermine the fairness of the corresponding juries? Are jury trials necessarily fairer than bench trials? Also, are there other countries that How do the different conceptions of fairness affect jury decisions? How do jurors deal with conflicts of natural law and legal principles?