The jury in the retrial of the sentencing phase for Jodi Arias deadlocked 11-1 in favor of death on Thursday. I have not paid much attention to the case, but I do always take notice when a criminal trial garners national media attention because of the way such spectacle trials can shape and often skew public opinion of the way the criminal justice system works. I believe the O.J. verdict, by way of example, was one of the worst things to ever happen to criminal defense attorneys and I still routinely talk to jurors who are convinced that the system favors defendants and walk into their jury service with the mind state that they will not be the naive juror who acquits someone the world knows is guilty, thus already leaning heavily toward guilt.
I fear that the Arias penalty verdict may have similar repercussions. Already, public reaction to the holdout juror has been uniformly negative. Predictably, the Nancy Grace's of the world have immediately sought to vilify her as someone who sought to advance her own agenda (oh, the irony) and personally attacked her background (the juror was a past victim of domestic violence whose ex-husband is currently in prison). Even less nakedly biased outlets have advanced the narrative that a lone holdout juror is something of a perversion of the jury system.
One Arizona news channel spoke to a supposed expert on juries who stated that one juror hanging a verdict is extremely rare (while a subjective term, it is not rare by any definition) because jurors, "usually open to listening to other people's ideas and evidence and things that they saw," suggesting that juror who disagrees with the majority has not done so. This same so-called expert further speculated that the holdout may have been working with an "agenda." Echoing the sort of nonsense one would generally expect only from a bottom-feeding mouth breather like Nancy Grace.
What neither commentator ever mentioned is that the authority that demands unanimity in criminal jury verdicts is none other than the United States Constitution, a document conservative commentators never hesitate to wave when they deem it supportive of their ideas but conveniently ignore in situations like this where it does not.
Juror number 17's vote in the Arias retrial is not evidence of a problem in our jury system, but exemplary of its beauty. A criminal defendant, particularly in a question of life or death, is entitled to the individual deliberation of every juror and juror number 17's resistance to the majority was an act of moral bravery to be celebrated, evidence that despite all of its problems, the American jury system is still the best in the world.
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