Henning Schroeder's assault on the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of trial by jury calls for some response ("A reasonable doubt about jury trials," March 9).
Schroeder, who comes from Germany, cites as authority for his jury criticism unidentified "French legal scholars," who find "l'incompetence" of lay jurors to be disqualifying.
I have the temerity to suggest that France, which still has a hard time living down the Dreyfus Affair, may have some issues with its own jurists.
The professor skips over the fundamental differences between the American, German and French legal systems. They are entirely dissimilar. The United States is a common law country; France and Germany operate under versions of the Napoleonic Code. A pillar of European criminal law is that a person charged with a crime must prove his or her innocence. There is no concept of "innocent until proven guilty."
This is precisely contrary to the Common Law's presumption of innocence. In this country, the accusing government bears the burden to prove guilt. The accused is presumed innocent until the government meets its burden.
I have some experience with juries. In 16 years as both a prosecutor and defense lawyer, followed by 25 years as one of Minnesota's federal judges, I have participated in or observed hundreds of jury trials.
My first observation is that those who criticize the jury usually have little experience with it. Experienced trial lawyers will tell you they would virtually never choose a judge over a jury, were they to be accused of a crime. In my own experience, trying hundreds of cases, I have disagreed with a jury's decision on occasion. But I have disagreed far less often than the Court of Appeals has disagreed with my decisions.
Garry Peterson, Hennepin County's former medical examiner, is a physician (board-certified in both pathology and forensics) and also a lawyer. As the ME, he testified in hundreds of Minnesota trials. His observation about juries was that "on questions of scientific or technical matters, 12 jurors probably have a collective IQ around 100. On questions of lying, cheating and stealing, those same 12 people have a collective IQ somewhere around 180."
Peterson is correct. Lying, cheating and stealing — the question whether someone is telling the truth — is the essence of a large portion of cases that come to trial. Experts also testify and somehow, if one side has one, the other will too. And remarkably, they almost always draw precisely contrary conclusions from the same evidence.
Certainly, juries make mistakes. I am unfamiliar with any human-operated system that does not. On the other hand, I am also unfamiliar with any studies showing that one, two or three judges make fewer.
I only know that if my guilt, my life or my property were ever in jeopardy, I would opt for a jury over any judge I have ever known (and that includes myself).
James M. Rosenbaum, of Minnetonka, is a retired U.S. district judge.