21 May 2013

Original Jurisdiction

The Desert News had a recent article that began by saying "The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments Tuesday in a case that could have implications for states that rely on interstate water compacts." The case in question concerns a water rights dispute between six western states, and is an excellent example of case that begins and ends in the U.S. Supreme Court, as the Court has original jurisdiction to hear disputes between the states.

If you are reading the words "original jurisdiction" and asking yourself what that means, it is time to go back and review your class notes.

14 May 2013

Jury Nullification in Action

For those students interested in reading about a case where jury nullification was used to find a defendant not guilty, take look at this post.

13 May 2013

More on the UK Supreme Court

I just came across this nice little introductory video about the UK Supreme Court. According to its website:
This introductory film is primarily aimed at GSCE/Standard Grade students and explores the role and the workings of the Supreme Court, the only court with UK-wide jurisdiction and the highest court in the land. It explains its relationship to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the highest court for British Overseas Territories and a number of Commonwealth countries.

08 May 2013

The Right Jury Size

More on juries, this time related to the size of juries in the United States. Slate Magazine recently ran an interesting article on jury size noting that all but two states require juries that contain 12 people to give unanimous verdicts. The article runs down nicely how the Supreme Court has ruled in the past regarding jury size:
Isn’t a verdict in a criminal trial supposed to be unanimous? The answer is yes in 48 states and yes if the case is tried in a federal court. But two states, Oregon and Louisiana, allow convictions by a non-unanimous vote. In both states, the threshold in non-capital cases is 10 to 2.* Arguably, Herrera had to go to jail for the crime of living in Oregon.

The Supreme Court has allowed this conflict between federal and state law (as well as between state law and conventional wisdom) to persist for more than 40 years, during which time it has come up with a mishmash of seemingly arbitrary rules about what constitutes a legal trial. A jury of six, the Supreme Court has decided, is constitutional (Williams v. Florida, 1970). A jury of five, however, is not constitutional (Ballew v. Georgia, 1978). In a jury of six, conviction must be unanimous (Burch v. Louisiana, 1979). But in a jury of 12, conviction does not have to be unanimous (Johnson v. Louisiana and Apodaca v. Oregon, 1972). (At the time of these decisions, Louisiana required a 9-to-3 vote to convict in non.capital cases, which the court upheld as constitutional. The state has since changed its threshold to 10 to 2.)

06 May 2013

Learing to love Jury Duty

Students in all of my courses have at some time or another been exposed to the common law jury system. Some argue that a strength of this system is the ability for everyday people to take part in the administration of justice. Yet, many Americans dread being called for jury duty. In a recent Atlantic post, Andrew Guthrie Ferguson argues that Americans need to embrace, not dread jury duty. He writes:
A jury summons is an invitation to participation. Jurors are asked to involve themselves in some of the most personal, sensational, and terrifying events in a community. It is real life, usually real tragedy, played out in court. Jurors confront disturbing facts, bloody images, or heart-wrenching testimony. A jury may have to decide whether a man lives or dies, or whether a multimillion-dollar company goes bankrupt. A jury will have to pass judgment in a way that will have real-world effects on both parties before the court. This active role was not accidental. Participation in jury service teaches the skills required for democratic self-government. Being a juror lets you develop the habits and skills of citizenship.