We recently briefed a case where the judge came back from lunch and announced, “The Court has arrived at a verdict. The verdict is –,” until the parties frantically stopped her. The trial hadn’t finished yet! She apologized and sat patiently through the rest of the trial before delivering the guilty verdict she’d already decided on.
How do we know she’d already decided? Because for starters, it was called the “Domestic Violence Court,” a name that might as well be “The Man Is Guilty” Court. Or the “Once-You’ve-Seen-One-You’ve-Seen-Them-All” Court. How can a busy, overworked judge possibly be expected to remember which case is which?
That’s why the People like to reduce the charges to a lower grade so the defendant doesn’t get a jury trial — the myth being that a trial for a “petty” crime isn’t worth the trouble of hauling in a bunch of cranky citizens who insist that jury duty is against their religion. The reality being that a conviction of a petty crime is enough to send you to jail for “only” three months, make you lose your job, put you on the Sex Offender Registry, and/or various other obstructions to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Everything from the Supreme Court’s recent paen to jury trials to “Twelve Angry Men”* shows why multiple heads are better than one. Remember in the movie where the jurors are all set to convict the boy because he had a knife just like the murder weapon? And Henry Fonda pulls out the same kind of pocketknife to show how common it is? Persuading the other jurors to put aside their unreasoning prejudices and acquit before he pulls out a gun?
Not only does the lonely judge have no one to talk to, “reasonable doubt” is a contradiction in terms when she can expect to see her mug on the front page of the tabloids if she acquits. Fuggetabout if the defendant ever, ever commits a crime in the future.
If there must be solo judge trials, then judges should have to explain their verdicts in writing, just like they do for hearings. No reason to protect the sanctity of the beak’s in cerebro deliberations. The next courtroom drama will be “Twelve Angry Neurons.”
*Check out the Bollywood version.