Thomas Sowell

 Now that the case against Tyco executives has ended in a mistrial, there is much outcry against the juror whose holdout will cause a $12 million trial to have to be done all over again from scratch. Whether that juror was principled or just pig-headed, this trial reveals something more fundamentally wrong with our jury system -- and with the media.
It was not some trashy supermarket scandal sheet, but the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, that published the juror's name. The Associated Press published her photograph. It was not this juror's holdout itself which ultimately led to a mistrial but a report of her receiving a phone call and a letter that were seen as putting pressure on her.

 The jury was described as being minutes away from reaching a verdict when the judge called a mistrial. But the judge was right. There was no way of knowing whether the holdout juror was now agreeing with the other 11 because of an outside threat.

 The media who are condemning this woman ought to be condemning themselves for their own irresponsibility, which is not only costing taxpayers millions of dollars but can corrupt the whole system of justice. The New York Times pioneered such irresponsibility years ago, when it published the name of the foreman of the jury that acquitted the policemen who beat Rodney King.

 Newspapers have every right to complain about any jury verdict they don't like. But that is wholly different from putting jurors in personal jeopardy when they don't vote the way the media wants them to vote. Do we want future jurors to decide cases on the basis of facts or on the basis of fear?

 In the Diallo police shooting case four years ago, a witness whose testimony tended to support the defense was forced by the prosecutor to reveal in open court not only his name and address, but also the very apartment in which he and his family lived.

 In an atmosphere where mobs were being whipped up outside the courthouse by demagogues, this was a shot across the bow of any other potential witness who might testify in ways that the prosecutor did not like.

 Do you wonder why witnesses do not come forward? When they do come forward, are they supposed to testify to what they actually saw or to what they think will keep them out of trouble?

 If we are serious about wanting justice in our courts, then we need to start getting serious about preventing witnesses and jurors from being intimidated. We might start by getting all cameras out of the courtroom.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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