Being judged by a jury of one’s peers is meant to be reassuring for defendants — a counterbalance to a professional judiciary whose possible ivory-tower tendencies may put it out of touch with common Americans.
In practice, because any Tom, Dick, and Harriet can serve on a jury, with almost no regard to their intelligence or their ability to juggle information critically (in fact, such qualities often disqualify citizens from the jury pool), I can think of few things more nerve-wracking than the possible damage that a jury of mediocre thinkers can inflict.
Take the verdict in the David Tarloff case. A Manhattan jury just convicted Tarloff, a man with schizophrenia, of the chillingly brutal murder, in 2008, of Kathryn Faughey, a psychologist. Tarloff’s lawyers had pleaded insanity on behalf of their client. Tarloff, they said,
… had a long history of delusions about communicating directly with God. He told doctors who examined him that his plan … had been sanctioned by the lord.
But here’s the fascinating part.
Jurors said they were convinced that even though Mr. Tarloff at times had delusions about communicating with God, he still knew that the robbery and murder were immoral in society’s eyes and understood that he had committed a crime.
“He’s sick, but I feel like he knew what he was doing,” said a juror, Dana Torres, 27, a construction worker. “For me, if he had said Satan told him to do this, it would have been a different story.”
So, to sum it up:
Talking with God — that’s great, a virtue. You may well be wicked-crazy if you don’t.
Talking with Satan — that’s evil, and a sign that that you’re most likely stark raving mad.
As there’s no doubt that David Tarloff murdered Kathryn Faughey, the jury may well have reached the correct verdict. It’s just that the way some members got there is gobsmackingly devoid of the most basic self-reflection.
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