Legal System

Buying Innocence and Jury Ignorance

Sunday, November 30, 2014
By Margo Page

The ethics of our legal system is based on the premise that if both parties have a lawyer then the legal process will inevitably unveil the guilt or illuminate the innocence of the defendant.  However, we are all aware that not all lawyers are equal.  If they were, why would some lawyers be able to demand exorbitantly higher rates?  Some lawyers are more experienced and more savvy, and this usually translates to differences in the verdict.  Despite this common knowledge, we accept that being the economically advantaged party can enable oneself to procure a not-guilty verdict via an experienced and savvy lawyer.  Inherently, we also accept the flip side, which is that many innocent and wrongly accused cannot buy themselves representation that can adequately compete with that of the accuser.  Should each party really be allowed to pay different prices for their legal representatives?  One hypothetical solution could be that if one party desires and is able to pay more, that enough of this money be allocated to the opposite party so that each side has an equal amount of money to pay hire representation.  Obviously there would be necessary contingencies, such as the receiving party providing documentation to show how much they can reasonably pay. But in spite of the unavoidable complications and details, we should commit ourselves to finding a solution.

Also, we are still using juries despite people’s general ignorance to a wide variety of very relevant knowledge including but not limited to human behavior (i.e. lying and persuasion), psychology (i.e. memory and perception), and forensics.  Does emotional conjecture really have a place in our legal system?

The following is a quote from a high-paid, experienced and savvy lawyer.  He no longer works as a defendant, and therefore felt comfortable sharing his manipulation tactics openly in The New York Times Magazine this week (November 30, 2014 issue).  The article is called “The Military’s Rough Justice“, and can be read in full at

Christensen’s early experience in a military courtroom was primarily as a defense attorney, with most of his early cases involving drug possession or use. During that time, he also represented nine men accused of rape. He won acquittals for six of them — the other three cases were thrown out before trial. Christensen developed an expertise in unraveling a victim’s testimony by, among other things, questioning her demeanor before and after the assault. He kept to himself how distasteful he found these moments — how he imagined taking the women aside after the whole thing was over and whispering, I believe you.

But his obligation was to his clients, and so he did what professional ethics demanded of him. The Air Force’s prosecutors and judges were inexperienced — moving on to other areas of the law after a few years — and seldom objected to Christensen’s line of questioning. The jury members, usually men of senior rank, had little sense of the counterintuitive behavior that victims often display. How she might go back to the house where a man attacked her to retrieve her sunglasses, so that he could not hold onto something of hers. How she might still talk to her attacker on the base, even with a smile, so as not to damage her military career. How her heart rate might have been normal during the medical examination following the assault, because, well, the body sometimes behaves strangely. Consistently he exploited the jurors’ ignorance on such matters to win acquittals of men he often suspected of being sexual predators.

We should continuously evaluate the legal system,
and adjust it to improve upon it’s fairness.

• Why are different parties allowed to pay different prices for their representation?

• Why do we still use juries, and why do they still play such a large role?