The Postmodern Jury: From Representation to Deliberation

Candace C. McCoy, Rutgers University

Voting as a juror is usually the only occasion on which an American citizen directly decides a matter of significant public import. Jurors are expected to analyze the evidence that litigants bring to them and, in criminal cases, arrive at a verdict based on their understanding of what the evidence means and whether these facts amount to "guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." Jurors therefore interpret social and political reality. Under democratic theory, this power serves to cxheck the power of police, prosecutors, and judges by injecting a lay understanding of events into the formal, routinized mechanisms of justice. Legal and political opinion also holds that a juror is expected to represent his or her community, gender, and ethnicity while deciding cases, but recent commentary suggests that the constitutional requirement of "impartiality" does not translate into "representation" like that expected of delegates to legislative bodies. Rather, it means that a juries randomly selected from a true cross-section of a court's jurisdiction will deliverate freely and equally among themselves. Hence, the great diversity of viewpoints and life experiences among the many jurors invite a postmodern analysis of the jury as an institution. Rather than define truth as a universal standard with which all must agree, postmodern philosophy posits that truth is contingent on different readings of "text" -- in this example, the trial -- and pragmatic philosophers such as Richard Rorty describe truth as a construction upon which diverse viewpoints agree and which evolves as the viewpoints do. This article posits that the jury system as it operates in the USA today is an excellent example of the process of constructing postmodern truth.

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Updated 05/20/2006