Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1878

Abstract

The occasional freaks of juries have now and then led some members of the bar to speculate on the policy of doing without them entirely, and some persons no doubt think that they have strong convictions that the jury system has become useless. It is safe to say that these extreme views are altogether speculative, and not based on any careful comparison of results. Most persons who have looked into their own experience with courts and juries are ready to agree that where there is no dispute about main facts, so that the chief dispute is one of law, there is no reason why the judge should not handle the whole case. But where there are motives to be looked into, and uncertain elements to be determined, although juries sometimes make strange work, they make on the average quite as sound decisions on facts as judges. Any one who will take the trouble to investigate will find that upon questions of fact, involving any close knowledge of human nature, judges differ as much as juries, and sometimes reach remarkable results. Experience has shown (and perhaps no volumes contain sadder proofs of it than the state trials of all countries) that the pressure of public passions and prejudices, whether general or local, is often quite as visible in the rulings as in the verdict. It often happens, too, that a vigorous legal intellect is found in company with curious hobbies and freaks of judgment, which may make a very austere man apply extreme notions of criminality to venial or minor offences, or hold, on the other hand, serious wrongs to be mere harmless vagaries. The legal biographies contain some amusing illustrations of this, and the annals of criminal jurisprudence are not lacking in tragic examples of it.


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