10 ways to avoid the mess of current Simpson trial

June 07, 1995|By ROGER SIMON

When Morgan of Glamorgan instituted jury trials in Wales in 725 A.D., he thought 12 jurors would do nicely.

"For as Christ and 12 Apostles were finally to judge the world, so human tribunals should be composed of the king and 12 wise men," he said.

Morgan never anticipated the O. J. Simpson trial, however.

With only two of the original 12 jurors remaining and with only two alternates available, it is time to think about what will happen if we have to try this case again.

Here are 10 things we could do differently:

1. Pick the new jury in a single day. The current O. J. Simpson jury was picked with great care after weeks of intense scrutiny.

The jurors were questioned by the defense lawyers, the prosecution lawyers and the judge. The jurors filled out lengthy questionnaires. And their responses were painstakingly examined by expensive jury experts employed by both sides.

But what good did it do? So far, 10 jurors have been dismissed for lying, for being prejudiced, for intimidating other jurors or for failing to follow the judge's orders.

So next time Los Angeles should do what other jurisdictions do: Take the first 12 prospective jurors on the jury list who will raise their right hands and swear to be fair. No weeks of questioning by the lawyers.

If the jury turns out to be all black, fine. All white, all women, all men, all vegetarians? Fine. Lawyers want jurors who will be prejudiced for their side and prejudiced against the other side. But what we need is a jury who will be fair, not prejudiced.

2. Kick out the TV cameras. Television has made a shambles of the Simpson trial. All sides, including Judge Lance Ito, play to the cameras instead of trying the case.

But how do we satisfy legitimate First Amendment concerns? Easy.

Let TV reporters inside the court, but keep TV cameras out.

3. Dump Ito. Maybe no judge could have anticipated how this case would spin out of control, but at least a new judge can learn from and avoid Ito's mistakes.

4. Ban sidebars. Transcripts have revealed that almost all of them have been useless chitchat.

5. Ban repetitive questioning. When a question has been asked once and answered once, that is plenty. No repeats.

6. Keep the pedal to the metal. We need a judge who is going to be ruthless -- and ruthlessly fair -- in speeding this trial along. The rights of both the defendant and the people must be safeguarded, but the Constitution guarantees speedy trials, not endless ones.

7. Muzzle the lawyers. The new judge should issue a strict gag order: No going on "Larry King," no press conferences, no arguing the case in public. First offense, a $10,000 fine. Second offense, one week in jail. Third offense, removal from the case.

8. Don't sequester the jury. The current sequestration has been an utter failure -- the jurors are hearing about the case through phone calls and conjugal visits -- and has served only to make the jurors crazy.

In the next trial, have the jurors pledge not to read papers, listen to radio or watch TV, and then let them go home each night.

9. Consider trying the case outside of Los Angeles. We need a city where voracious TV competition does not produce phony "scoops" or helicopters hovering over the jurors' homes. Let's try this case in a place where the people and the media are more normal. But will the Baltimore Convention Center expansion be completed in time?

10. Plea bargain it. Some 90 percent of all criminal cases in America are settled by plea bargains. A plea bargain in the Simpson case could save California millions of dollars. Simpson cannot be compelled to accept a plea bargain (and he may be innocent.) But he might take one if the deal was good enough.

I say offer him 15 years in prison for both crimes. Sure, 15 years isn't much for murdering two people, but it's better than letting him go if a second (or third or fourth) trial also results in a mistrial or through double jeopardy.

Also, once a defendant accepts a plea bargain, he gives up his right to appeal, which again would save taxpayers money and would bring a real conclusion to this case.

But would O. J. Simpson actually accept 15 years?

I think he would do two things if offered that deal:

He'd think about it real hard. And then he'd jump at it.

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