Trial by Jury

Trial by Jury is somewhat implausible, especially the ending part, but I think it sets a great example of how things should be. Valerie Alston (Joanne Whalley) is a juror on a case that is against an organised crime boss; the prosecuting DA in this case wants to put the boss away for eternity for the murder of 11 people. However, the crime boss holds the life Alston's son over her head, forcing her to hang the jury (which is a nice thought, come to think of it---more on this later). This ploy works, but the mob boss, realising he cannot have any witnesses, decides to kill Valerie and her son anyway. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Alston does the best thing she can do: she follows her instincts in a very laudable, but as I said before, dubious ending.

Those of you who thought True Lies was misogynistic might end up with the same viewpoint here, but I think Hollywood perpetuates both myths, neither of which I am comfortable with: that girls are meant to do whatever is told at any cost, thus objectifying them, and that boys are always "bad", needlessly putting the girls through pain.

"It's not a matter of who dies, Valerie; it's a matter of who dies first."

Which brings me again to our system of justice: the jury system is, I believe, completely orthogonal to justice. First of all, jurors do not decide whether the evidence is enough to convict a person, but decide, yes, subjectively decide, if the person is guilty of the crimes accused. Secondly, jurors are ignorant of the law---I bet most of them (I'm assuming here, since I've never been on jury duty and never will (have to) be) could not differentiate between circumstantial evidence and "hard" evidence, which is really important because an excellent case could be built completely out of circumstantial evidence. But this is just an example, perhaps false. The fact is that the language of the law is very convoluted making it hard for the average person to understand what exactly is happening and making it harder to evaluate truthood. Finally, the media compromises the integrity of the jurors---do we really believe/know that the jurors in the O.J. Simpson case haven't already formed their opinions about the case after all the garbage the media has written about it?

All this doesn't place responsibility on jurors alone: that the language of the law is so convoluted is to be blamed on society as a whole. Oh sure, the law-makers will say "it needs to be that way in order to be unambiguous", but surely the ambiguity is still there---it is just carefully couched in superflous words. In the end, however, the fact is that humans, who are removed from the situation, cannot pass judgements on others. So John asked me "what is a better way?" And this is a difficult question. Just because we might not have better philosophies at this current point doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to find them: the only persons who can pass judgements are the ones who are involved and this movie brings this existential point into perspective.

Movie ramblings || Ram Samudrala ||