Thursday, July 15, 2010

Celebrity Juries

I’ve been thinking a lot about high-profile cases like the Mehserle trial. People are really upset over that one. I don’t claim to be an expert on it, having not watched the trial, nor even learned about it until the jury was in deliberation. But one thing that strikes me is that the folks who are angry don’t seem to really have trusted the jury.

Well, that leads me to ask: who do Americans trust? Celebrities. We need celebrity juries.

This has been done before, to great effect, in the investigation into the Challenger explosion. (Remember Richard Feynman with the O-rings?) People trusted that result, it worked. I don’t know if the members of that committee really were experts, or if it even mattered.

Here’s what I propose: Go through the list of people applying for Dancing with the Stars or similar reality shows. (That, or hang around the back lots of Hollywood studios looking for child actors rummaging the dumpsters.) Offer these people a hot meal and some amount of legal training, and then let them continue their publicity-hungry ways.

Then, when there’s a major trial, call them in. Use focus groups as part of jury selection: go out and pick up the angriest-looking people picketing, and anyone they ask for an autograph is in. Obviously, a lot of them will be disqualified for drug or drunk-driving offenses, but there should be a sizable pool left over of celebs who never got caught.

Things go on normally from there. Celebrities may not be the brightest people, but they’re certainly no dumber than your average person. And they have enormous egos -- they’re less likely to be awed by police officers or expert witnesses.

Then when the trial is over and the jury comes back from deliberations, you trot them all out in front of the cameras. They smile and wave, and deliver the verdict. It may very well be the same one that an ordinary jury would bring back, but people will trust it more if it comes from celebrities.

Now, I’m not only saying this because I think that people are stupid. The point of the jury system in the first place was that a person should be tried by their peers -- not only for their own sake, but so that the community would trust that the result was the same as if they had personally been there. It’s not merely or even primarily about fairness, but about confidence. I don’t think that we have that anymore, our cities and communities are just too big, and we don’t know each other. But we do feel like we know celebrities, probably more than we feel like we know our neighbors in many cases. Ergo, in order for the public to have confidence in the results of jury trials, those juries need to be filled with what passes for our neighbors today. Sad, but possibly necessary. Maybe we can get away with just having celebrities as jury foremen.

(I was going to insert a Paris Hilton joke here, but I’m reminded that she’s actually the only person in her generation of her family to *make* money rather than just spend it. The jury, if you’ll pardon the pun, is still out on her, I think)

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