We are privileged to live in a democracy but very often, we show it by simply voting in various elections. Our State and Federal representatives and senators go off to Harrisburg and Washington and we lose track or become uninvolved in governing our community. Our democracy really shines, however, through our jury system. People from our community decide disputes between fellow citizens. In the criminal context, community members serve on juries and decide whether the Government’s case against an individual fellow citizen has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Although this blog is based on events that occurred several weeks ago, the lesson learned and emphasized, the value of our jury system, is timeless.
After a lengthy trial, a jury found two men guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Philadelphia Police Sergeant Stephen Liczbinski. The jury then heard evidence about aggravating and mitigating factors to decide whether these two defendants should be sentenced to death or to life in prison. After lengthy deliberations, the jurors reported that they were deadlocked, apparently 10 were willing to issue the death penalty, 2 were swayed by the mitigating factors and would not agree to the death sentence. Because the jurors were not unanimous, as a matter of law, the judge imposed life sentences in addition to other sentences for related crimes.
Some police officers were interviewed and they expressed their disappointment that these two defendants, involved in brutally murdering a police sergeant, were not given the death penalty. The defense lawyers, on the other hand, emphasized that neither man actually squeezed the trigger and focusing on the mitigating factors, they agreed with the result.
Unfortunately, the newspaper articles focused on the result and not on the jurors or on the jury deliberation process itself. It appears that this jury was an outstanding example of everything that is right with our jury system. Remember this was a difficult and emotional trial. It lasted almost two months. After hearing all of the evidence, the citizens of the jury discussed the case and after several days, reached a unanimous decision convicting the two citizens/defendants. Thereafter, they once again heard emotionally charged testimony concerning aggravating and mitigating factors and once again, they deliberated for several days. They were unable to reach a unanimous decision on the death penalty so the judge, as dictated by law, imposed the life sentences.
Several of the jurors were interviewed and asked whether they were disappointed that they could not reach a unanimous decision on the death penalty. The responding jurors said they were not disappointed and even though they favored the death penalty, they emphasized that the judge had instructed them to listen to their fellow jurors, to discuss the case fully, to respect each other’s opinions and views and to attempt to reach a unanimous decision. Clearly, these jurors remained true to their task, they did exactly what responsible jurors should do. They discussed everything, they clearly respected each others opinions, they expressed no resentment or ill will toward their fellow jurors, they simply could not reach a unanimous decision regarding the death sentence.
For a moment, put aside whether you agree or disagree with the death penalty. Put aside your empathy for the family of Sergeant Liczbinski and for his fellow officers. Instead, for a moment , focus on our jury system and how these jurors were an outstanding example of citizens deciding a case involving other citizens.
John A. Orlando, Esquire can be reached in his office at 115 Fayette Street, by phone at (610) 897-2576 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please visit our website at www.thepanjinjurylawyers.com.