Verdict still out on jury systemIn February 2010, a 30-year-old man was accused of killing an old lady in her 70s with a blunt instrument in a South Gyeongsang village. The suspect asked for a jury trial. The prosecution presented blood stains on the suspect’s sneakers as evidence. The suspect claimed that the blood might have gotten on him when he pulled down a cover on the body. The nine jurors acquitted the accused, saying the evidence was insufficient. The verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court.
The experimental jury system, dubbed “citizens’ participatory trial,” has been gaining ground. We now have to redress the problems and shortcomings we have seen before the jury system becomes established in the courtroom.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday announced its final decision to bestow “de facto binding force” to jury verdicts. It will revise the law so judges will respect juries that have had only an “advisory” role. The court considered granting full legal binding force to the jury as in the American system, but settled on “de facto” status to avoid clashing with the Constitution, which states people have the “right to be tried by a judge.” But the bench generally would have to respect jury opinions, except in exceptional cases and procedures that go against the Constitution or laws.
Before the participatory trials hold binding force, the system needs to be redressed to live up to its heavier role. Of 574 cases attended by citizen jurors in 2008-11, 527, or 91.8 percent, were concluded within 24 hours. Trials went on for more than 10 hours and late into the night. Truth-finding and defendant rights could be jeopardized if cases are rushed. The court would have to seek cooperation with jurors to restrict trials to eight hours and extend the trial period if necessary.
Prosecution appeal rates in participatory trials are high. In 2008-11, the appeal rate by the prosecution was 50.2 percent in participatory trials, more than double the 23.3 percent rate in common cases. In America, state counselors cannot appeal cases where suspects were found innocent. They can also appeal a guilty verdict only in cases on legal judgment problems. In revising the system, the Supreme Court changed the jury verdict requirement from a simple majority to a three-fourths vote. The are no restrictions on prosecutor appeals. There should be.
The new legal system can make citizens crucial members of the court. It requires mature judiciary awareness from citizens. Citizens should be proud to receive notification to serve as jurors. We can now all participate in establishing and defending law and order in this country.