Simpson's jury

O. J.

September 21, 1994

As expected, Judge Lance Ito has ruled that there is enough evidence against O. J. Simpson to require him to stand trial for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole and her friend, Ron Goldman. Jury selection is scheduled to begin next week.

Actually the process is already under way. About 500 prospective jurors have returned questionnaires asking about their ability to serve on the case at least until February. About 1,000 prospective jurors are expected to be in the pool from which the 12 trial jurors and their alternates will be picked.

That is an extraordinary number for a pool. It is required, say the prosecution and the defense, because of the extraordinary amount of pre-trial publicity about the case. Both sides apparently want jurors as ignorant as possible about the case. That is unnecessary. Worse than that, it is wrong. Informed jurors have proven in many cases that they can arrive at a verdict based on what they learn in a courtroom -- and only on that. Jurors who have no knowledge of so famous a case as this are probably so uninvolved in their community and in everyday life as to be not very reliable triers of facts.

The harm of pre-trial publicity is a bugaboo. In 1976 the Supreme Court ruled that "pretrial publicity -- even pervasive, adverse publicity -- does not invariably lead to an unfair trial." The next year a scholar surveyed numerous studies of this phenomenon and concluded that "for the most part juries are able and willing to put aside extraneous information and base their decisions on the evidence. . . When ordinary citizens become jurors, they assume a special role in which they apply different standards of proof, more vigorous reasoning and great detachment." (Rita J. Simon, 29 Stanford Law Review, 515, 528.)

An even more wrongful abuse of the jury process is being sought in the Simpson case by the prosecution. It wants the jury sequestered for the duration. That would make it all but impossible to pick a jury that was truly a cross section of the community. Most ordinary people can't take six or so months off from work and away from family.

The prosecution's theory is that coverage of the trial will affect the jurors' deliberations. It won't. What is true about pre-trial publicity is even more true of trial publicity.

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