- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2003

The problem with juries

The exoneration of Robert Durst (“Eccentric N.Y. millionaire found not guilty of murder,” Wednesday), who admitted killing and dismembering a former neighbor, is the latest high-profile case in which the jury system has failed us.

The belief that a panel of ordinary citizens with no legal background will be able to properly judge the evidence and render a just and reasonable verdict is a lovely, quaint notion. But it has been demonstrated repeatedly that it is no guarantee of justice, and it is the reason that individuals like Mr. Durst are returned to society, where they may pose a menace to innocent people.

The measure of whether one is found guilty of a crime should not be determined based upon how skillful an attorney one can afford, but should hinge on whether one is guilty of the crime of which he is accused.

As one who served on a jury in a high-profile case involving the sexual assault of a child some years ago, I can personally attest that the jury system is one of “justice by chance.” We deserve better.

The stakes are too high to continue to gamble on juries of common folk. If one required open-heart surgery, they would not turn to an untrained individual with no prior knowledge of medicine to perform it. So, too, should we be ensured that those who make life and death decisions in judicial matters have appropriate training and education. It is time for the nation to move to trial by judge or to initiate a system of professional juries composed of individuals knowledgeable in the law and unswayed by that which is irrelevant to the question of guilt.

OREN M. SPIEGLER

Upper Saint Clair, Pa.

Defining success

Paul Craig Roberts has revealed himself to be a man who has no idea how a society is to be judged (“Job growth spin cycle,” Commentary, Thursday). Cars, boats, machines and gadgets are not the primary measure of our success or failure. Longer, healthy, productive lives and the freedom to pursue happiness are the true measures of success.

France, according to news accounts, lost thousands of senior citizens during the heat wave this summer, while most of the work force vacationed in August.IsanythingMr. Roberts discussed as important as that fact in determining the success or failure of a society?

Referring to America’s changing economy as a spin and 35 million immigrants as a burden further reveals Mr. Roberts’ ignorance of the theory of economics and lack of perspective.

HOWARD LOHMULLER

Seabrook, Texas

Mr. McCaslin’s point is well taken. While our government leaders cannot find the funding to recover U.S. sailors’ remains from a glacier in Greenland, where they have lain for more than 40 years, Congress continues to spend at record pace on such items as turning an employee cafeteria into a gourmet restaurant in the State Department building.

What does this say about our nation’s spending priorities? Where is honor? Where is our conscience?

ROBERT T. PETTWAY, SR.

U.S. Secret Service (Retired)

McDonald, Tenn.

Hate crimes and federal law

We were glad to see Charles Hurt’s article (“Hatch joins Kennedy to push hate-crimes bill,” Page 1, Thursday) about the bipartisan effort to pass meaningful hate crime protections. However, we took exception to the characterization that the bill would “violate free-speech rights and give the Department of Justice free rein to step over local authorities to prosecute many types of violent crimes.”

It is baffling that there are still opponents of the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act (LLEEA) who argue that this bill “punishes someone for what he thinks,” when it contains no penalty enhancement and merely allows the possibility of federal jurisdiction and assistance in violent incidents involving death and bodily injury.

The LLEEA has been endorsed by more than 175 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations, including attorneys general for 22 states; the National Sheriffs’ Association; and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Finally, it was less than one month ago that the FBI released new statistics showing that while the overall number of hate crimes in this country has declined, hate violence targeting homosexual Americans is at a 12-year high. This makes the remarks of the anonymous Senate staffer lamenting the fact that some might see this as the government condoning the “homosexual lifestyle” even more inane and outrageous than they might first appear.

Homosexual Americans are increasingly the target of hate violence in this country. An overwhelming majority of Americans support this common-sense legislation. If there is any doubt that the LLEEA should include a provision to protect homosexual Americans from hate violence, then opponents should be honest about their opposition to the measure — when the bill comes up for consideration, they should offer an amendment stripping the protections for homosexual Americans out of the bill. At least that way there could be an open debate over who we protect from hate violence and how.

WINNIE STACHELBERG

Political director

Human Rights Campaign

Washington

Democratic judicial obstruction

The unconstitutional obstructionism by Senate Democrats in preventing a vote on the Senate floor for pro-life judicial nominees can be dubbed “Schumerism,” after Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, who has led the Democrats’ fight against pro-life nominees.

There is no doubt that Schumerism is all over the abortion issue. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) ran radio commercials stressing that Senate Democrats, in preventing a vote, were protecting a woman’s right to abort her child. The DNC also provides a link on its Web site to the pro-abortion Catholics For a Free Choice (CFFC) Web site. This shows their contempt for the Catholic and pro-life votes.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, took Schumerism to a personal extreme in a press conference with pro-abortion leaders. Following the Republicans’ attempt to bring the Democrats’ obstructionism to the public’s attention, Mr. Kennedy insulted President Bush’s outstanding judicial nominees, calling them “Neanderthals” and “right-wing turkeys.”

Hopefully, in 2004 the definition of Schumerism will be extended: the unconstitutional obstruction of Senate floor votes for pro-life judicial nominees, resulting in a Senate free of obstructionism after the next election.

JOHN NAUGHTON

Silver Spring

Leaders

Gideon Meir’s column “Learning from past leaders” (Op-Ed, Thursday) addresses the importance of freeing Israeli citizens from the terror of suicide bombings. If only we could place half as much importance on freeing Palestinians from the terror of assassinations, land confiscations, house demolitions, curfews, checkpoints and a 25-foot wall which will separate 680,000 Palestinians from their fields, jobs and schools.

JOHN GROSVENOR

Portland, Ore.


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